Singapore Airlines – Reducing capacity to Mumbai & Delhi

For years, Singapore Airlines (SIA) has been ranked as a premium carrier. With its limited network, only 62 destinationsas compared to 200+ of fellow airlines and alliance partners in Star Alliance, and a fleet of just over 100 aircraft, SIA has done all that it could to maintain its leadership by maintaining the quality of their aircraft, impeccable training of in flight staff resulting in world renowned service and pushing the local government and operator to keep upgrading Singapore Changi Airport – its hub, which like SIA in airlines, is ranked very high in Airports, year after year, even when new airports have been built in the last decade. 

Today SIA group has presence in regional full service market through its sister carrier Silk Air, in Short haul LCC market via its stake in Tiger Airwaysand in Long Haul LCC market by its wholly owned subsidiary – Scoot. SIA also operates its own Cargo Fleet and division. 

While the history of SIA, takes it back to 1947 when it originated as Malaysian Airways Limited. SIA in its current form came into existence in 1972 and since then the iconic Singapore Girl continues to be part of advertisements of SIA, showing significance & emphasis on its service quality and standards. 

Having operated a fleet of B737s, B727s, B747-200/300s, A300/A310, SIA heralded into the modern era with B747-400 christened MEGA TOP which was a work horse for the long haul and introduced A340-500 christened LEADERSHIP which was used to operate its Ultra Long Haul (ULH) flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and Newark, and held the record of longest civilian flights till they stopped operating recently.

SIA, is also one of the leading carriers in Star Alliance, but many a times mistaken as one of the founding carriers.  

The Indian Story 

Singapore airlines, and its subsidiary Silk Air serves 11 destinations in the country with a mix of B777 of SIA and A320/B737s of Silk Air offering service on the route. Known for its inflight entertainment system – KrisWorld and frequency flier program – KrisFlier, it is very popular among the frequent fliers.

The onslaught of new carriers and flights to Singapore from India, mainly by Jetairways has not had any effect on the perfectly designed hub and spoke operations of SIA and the newer players like IndiGo pulled out their flights to Singapore from Delhi & Mumbai. 

From the standard daily flights to Mumbai and Delhi on B777s, SIA had added a day flight to Mumbai by winter of 2006-07 and was seeing steady loads. Few years down the line, this was joined by a day flight to Delhi. And two years ago, they launched their third flight each to Mumbai and Delhi. 

Having been a launch customer of Airbus A380, and seeing a lot of traffic in India, SIA could have well launched the Super Jumbo on its routes to India, but for the regulations of Indian government which did not allow the operations of A380 in India until recently, held them back. When SIA took delivery of the A380 and slowly started converting their B747-400 routes to A380, they were selling the A380 flights at a premium over other flights on the sector. 

The plan thus with the third flight, was to not only increase Origin & Destination traffic (O&D), but to also get more connecting traffic to S-E Asia and Australia. 

The new flights departed Delhi and Mumbai, so as to reach Singapore by 06:05 and 06:10 respectively. This has opened up a huge bank of flights from Singapore to Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Perth, Ho Chi Minh City, and many more. Much of these lucrative routes which earlier had a very tight connection of a connection with a long lay over.

A380 operations to India & subsequent capacity reduction 

As the Government of India moved to allow A380 operations to India, most of the people thought it would be Emirates or Lufthansa who would be the first to start A380 operations to India, however, SIA announced the same first and they will launch flights to Delhi and Mumbai effective 30th May. 

Seats Deployed

While everybody around is talking about SIA A380 operations to India, I am left wondering the eventual reduction in seats on the route, making me suspect that SIA was facing overcapacity due to its flights close to each other and on the DEL-SIN route, possibly the onward traffic was impacted due to Air India’s non-stop flights to Australia. 

Currently, SIA offers 8 First, 118 Business Class and 684 Economy from Mumbai in a day, a total of 810 seats to Singapore a day, which will reduce to 737 seats a day, comprising 12 First, 98 Business and 627 Economy Seats a drop of 73 seats or 9% of existing capacity. 

The drop based on seat count will be highest in Economy class with a drop of 57 seats, roughly 8% ofexisting economy class capacity but would be highest in Business Class, where it would reduce seats by 17% from 118 now to 98 post end of May.

The situation is similar for Delhi, where the drop in seats is even higher. I have not represented the Delhi operations, since the third flight is not daily in Delhi and operated 6x weekly. 

However, on an average, Delhi will lose out on 28 seats per day in Business class, a loss of 22% over existing and 55 seats in economy, a loss of 8%. On a daily basis, it’s a loss of 10% of seats. 

Operational Challenges 

Operating the super jumbo, the Airbus A380 to Indian airports is a challenge, more so in Mumbai than Delhi. With construction happening, limited number of bays, single runway operations and much more to add to the complexities. 

The timings, also reveal how SIA expects the ground operations to take a little longer to turn around the A380 in Mumbai as compared to Delhi. While SIA turns around the B777 in almost similar times at both these airports, it is budgeting 30 mins extra in Mumbai for turning around the A380.

It indeed would be a challenge not just for the operator but also the airport to extend all support and ensure that the aircraft gets pushed back on time, every time to attract more traffic to the airport and more operators to get their A380 to India. 

Future 

Aviation is still going through difficult times and definitely so in India. SIA having invested in a JV in the country with Tata and looking forward to start sometime by end of this year, they should expect a lot of feeder traffic from smaller cities around their main hubs and may well look at increasing capacity one more time, provided they have the necessary bilaterals. 

This is one case where switching services to A380 is not impacting anybody because of reduction in seats by the carrier on the route.

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