Singapore Airlines schedule, route and product changes for Canberra: the good and the bad

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is adding capacity and improving its product in the Canberra-Singapore market by introducing a daily flight with four class 777-300ERs. However, a stop in Sydney on the return flight from Singapore to Canberra could dissuade some business passengers.


Summary

  • Singapore Airlines is upgrading Singapore-Canberra from four weekly 777-200 flights to daily 777-300ER flights from 1-May-2018;
  • The schedule improves as the flight will no longer operate overnight in both directions and will becomes daily;
  • The product improves as the 777-300ER has four classes including lie flat business class seats compared to two classes on the 777-200 with outdated angled flat business class;
  • The introduction of a stop in Sydney in one direction is a major setback and could dissuade corporate and business travellers.

SIA has operated four weekly flights to Canberra since Sep-2016 with two class 266-seat 777-200s. The flights, which originate in Singapore and continue to Wellington, generate 4,256 weekly seats in the Canberra market – a significant figure given the small size of Canberra Airport.

SIA announced on 24-Jan-2018 a new schedule for Canberra from 1-May-2018 which eliminates the Wellington flight and upgrades Singapore to daily. However, a stop in Sydney will be added in one direction from Singapore, while the flight will still operate nonstop from Canberra.

SIA is also changing the aircraft type as it switches to the new Canberra schedule by introducing the 264-seat 777-300ER. The 777-300ER features a small first class cabin, lie flat business class seats in 1x2x1 configuration and premium economy. The 777-200 now used in Canberra only has angled lie flat business class seats in a much tighter 2x2x2 configuration and regular economy. Therefore, SIA is significantly improving the business class product for the Canberra market, while also introducing a first class and premium economy option for the first time.

The new daily 777-300ER flight will generate 3,696 weekly seats. This represents a 13% reduction in total capacity for Canberra but provides a much different spread of capacity. The current flight is shared with Wellington with approximately one-third of the capacity used for passengers flying through from Wellington to Singapore. The new flight will be shared with Sydney but should allow for an increase in local Canberra-Singapore capacity as it will be operated daily compared to the current four weekly flights schedule.

The Canberra-Singapore market has performed well for SIA in the initial 16 months and generated more traffic than Wellington-Singapore or Canberra-Wellington. The Canberra-Wellington leg has suffered from much lower load factors than the Singapore-Canberra leg, particularly during off peak months. SIA’s decision to drop Canberra-Wellington and instead launch Melbourne-Wellington is therefore sensible. Blue Swan will examine what the changes mean for Wellington (and Melbourne) in a separate upcoming analysis. This report looks at the changes for the Canberra-Singapore market, which are mixed.

The product improvements with the 777-300ER will be well received, particularly by premium passengers. The new schedule is also an improvement as the new flight will be operated daily instead of four times weekly and provide better connections to Asia.

SIA retimed Canberra-Singapore in Oct-2017, moving up the Canberra-Singapore departure by over an hour and the Singapore-Canberra departure back by about one hour. The current flight departs Singapore at 1155pm and lands back in Singapore at 425am. Connection times from Asia to Canberra were reduced, in some cases significantly, with the new schedule, but connections times from Canberra to Asia became longer due to the very early arrival in Singapore.

See related report: SIA to retime Singapore-Canberra-Wellington improving connection times for travellers

With the new schedule that takes effect on 1-May-2018, connection times from Canberra to Asia will reduce again as the flight lands in Singapore at 515am (50min later than the current flight and closer to the original schedule of 540am).

However, from Asia total transit times will increase significantly due to the stop in Sydney. For some Asia markets, connections will no longer be available at all because the new flight will depart Singapore in the morning, at 1030am, instead of the current late evening schedule.

The morning departure will result in better connections from continental Europe to Canberra. But the Canberra-Singapore flight does not connect well with Europe except London, where a morning departure from Singapore is available. Most of SIA’s Canberra-Singapore traffic connects within Asia and this remains SIA’s target market from Canberra.

SIA’s product from Europe to Canberra will also become a two-stop product (as is the case with Asia to Canberra) due to the new stop in Sydney. SIA is banking that passengers will still choose to fly with SIA despite the new stop in Sydney in one direction because for most city pairs there is no better alternative. For example, transferring in Sydney to a domestic flight is a hassle as it involves changing terminals. SIA’s Singapore-Sydney-Canberra flight will stop in Sydney for only an hour and operate at the international terminal (similar to the new Qatar Airways’ Canberra flight, which stops at Sydney in both directions).

However, with the one-stop product in one direction, SIA will risk losing some of its Canberra passengers and the momentum it has successfully built up the last 16 months in the Canberra-Singapore market. Canberra-Singapore traffic has been strong enough to justify a dedicated nonstop flight in both directions.

Adding the Sydney stop is less risky as SIA can use some of the capacity from the new Canberra flight for the Singapore-Sydney market. SIA even hopes to attract some Sydney traffic on the outbound leg via Canberra because the Sydney departure is two hours after its last nonstop flight. However, business and corporate passengers may avoid this flight – although it allows two more working hours Sydney – as a one-stop product is generally seen as inconvenient. (SIA is unable to offer a nonstop overnight flight from Sydney to Singapore due to Sydney Airport’s curfew.)

SIA could have opted to operate Singapore-Canberra nonstop in both directions with the new 787-10. The 787-10, which should be the right size for the Canberra market, is expected to enter service with SIA in Apr-2018. Making Singapore-Canberra its first 787-10 route would have sent the right message to the Canberra market, in particular Australian corporate customers. The triangle routing on the larger 777-300ER sends a mixed message and is an indication of SIA, known for its risk adversity, once again being too conservative.