Singapore loses its Uzbekistan service – and its only link to Central Asia

Uzbekistan Airways is dropping service to Singapore at the end of this month, setting back Changi Airport’s aspirations to improve connectivity to Central Asia and the CIS. Uzbekistan Airways is now the only airline from Central Asia or the CIS serving Singapore and provides one-stop connections to several underserved markets throughout the region.


Summary:

  • Uzbekistan Airways is dropping its Tashkent-Singapore service on 26-Apr-2019;
  • Tashkent is currently Singapore Changi’s only destination in Central Asia and Uzbekistan Airways is Changi’s only airline from the CIS;
  • Changi has been trying to position the airport as a hub for traffic heading to Central Asia and the CIS.

Uzbekistan Airways launched services to Singapore five years ago, on 4-Apr-2014. The airline has since operated two weekly flights to Singapore on a circle routing combining Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. One flight operates on a Tashkent-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore-Tashkent routing and the other on a Tashkent-Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Tashkent routing. The airline has generally operated Boeing 767-300s on the route although at times has used 787-8s and 757-200s.

The last Uzbekistan Airways flight from Singapore will operate on 26-Apr-2019. The airline will continue to operate two weekly flights to Kuala Lumpur and is swapping the Singapore stop for Jakarta using the same schedule. From 1-May-2019 it will operate one weekly flight on a Tashkent-Kuala Lumpur-Jakarta-Tashkent routing and one flight on a Tashkent-Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur-Tashkent routing.

Singapore has failed to attract a sufficient number of passengers to justify the cost of continuing to stop Kuala Lumpur flights at Changi. Most of the passengers on the Tashkent-Singapore flight continue to Kuala Lumpur.

While Uzbekistan has emerged as a popular tourist destination, it is unknown and obscure for Singaporeans. Traffic has been insignificant – even after Singapore gained visa free status to Uzbekistan in early 2018. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan residents generally prefer to holiday in lower cost Malaysia over Singapore.

Uzbekistan Airways has a longstanding presence in the Kuala Lumpur market and a codeshare partnership with Malaysia Airlines. The airline can continue offering Singapore as an offline destination using Malaysia Airlines. However, not operating a nonstop service from Singapore is a blow to Changi’s aspirations to become a hub for Central Asia.

In announcing the arrival of the first Uzbekistan Airways flight in Apr-2014, the Changi Airport Group called the launch “a significant milestone for Singapore and Changi Airport, as it establishes the first air bridge between Singapore and Central Asia, reaffirming our status as an important air hub linking Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. Passenger traffic between Central Asia and Southeast Asia/Southwest Pacific has been registering good growth over the last three years and we believe there is tremendous growth potential for the new Uzbekistan Airways service.”

Changi pointed out the new service “opens up business and tourism opportunities” as well as “direct and quick access to Central Asia and the Russian Siberian Federal District”.

Changi was hopeful Uzbekistan Airways would expand in Singapore – with more frequencies and more nonstops. It also has been trying to woo other airlines from Central Asia and the CIS. Kazakhstan’s Air Astana is particularly high on Changi’s wish list. However, Air Astana has been reluctant to launch Singapore due to the small size of the local Singapore-Kazakhstan market and could become even more reluctant given partner Uzbekistan Airways’ experience.

Changi also has been courting Aeroflot Russian Airlines, which would operate on the Singapore-Moscow route and open up one-stop connections throughout the CIS. Moscow is currently Singapore Airlines’ only destination in the CIS – which includes the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.

With the suspension of Tashkent, Moscow becomes Singapore’s only nonstop link in the entire CIS. Uzbekistan Airways was important to Changi despite only operating two weekly flights because it provided one-stop connections to several destinations in the CIS and has been growing its regional network. However, the low frequency and schedule (with only a single weekly nonstop in each direction) made it nearly impossible to attract business and corporate traffic.

The other major weakness was the lack of connectivity beyond Singapore as Uzbekistan Airways did not leverage the Singapore hub. If Singapore is to succeed at attracting another airline from the CIS, connectivity, particularly to Australia and secondary destinations in Southeast Asia, will be critical.