Built on product innovation, service excellence and network connectivity, Singapore Airlines Limited (SIA) is the flag carrier of Singapore. Operating from its hub at Changi Airport, the airline has a strong presence in the Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and ‘Kangaroo Route’ markets.
Its history can be traced back to 1 May 1947, when a Malayan Airways Limited (MAL) Airspeed Consul took off from Singapore Kallang Airport on the first of three scheduled flights a week to Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang. Today, SIA ranks amongst the top 20 carriers worldwide in terms of revenue passenger kilometres, and 10th in the world for international passengers carried.
As the airline gears up to celebrate its 40th anniversary of flying to Dubai in 2016, Ghulam Sajjad from Curiosity Middle East talks to Erwin Widjaja, General Manager Gulf Region, Singapore Airlines, about his short, medium and long term plans for the Middle East.
The global aviation industry will get even more competitive with capacity increases and ‘price wars’ in the coming years as many airlines have made big aircraft orders which will be delivered in the near future. The SIA group is well poised to weather the competition and succeed with our portfolio of airlines.
General Manager Gulf Region Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines (SIA) was the launch customer of Airbus A380, currently the world’s largest passenger aircraft. A formidable player on the global aviation stage, it flies one of the youngest aircraft fleets in the world to 61 international destinations spanning 35 countries in six continents as on 1st September, 2015.
In a fiercely competitive commercial aviation business, SIA is putting the accent more than ever on its customers. Continually investing in its products and services, the company with its Singapore Girl as an internationally-recognisable icon is providing customers with high-quality service and dominating the business-travel segments.
SIA has won the World’s Best Airline award from Conde Nast Traveler 26 out of the 27 times it has been awarded.
What is the latest news from Singapore Airlines?
Singapore Airlines (SIA) launched the first flight with Premium Economy class on 9 August on Singapore – Sydney route. It will come to Dubai from 12 January 2016.The new cabin product is the culmination of two years of work, which included extensive research and focus group studies involving customers and our design partners. The Premium Economy Class will provide customers more comfort and in-flight amenities. Complemented by the exceptional service that Singapore Airlines is so well known for, the new cabin class will be ‘a great new way to fly’.
Premium Economy Class will welcome customers with a contemporary and stylish design. Each seat has a width of either 18.5 or 19.5 inches, depending on aircraft type, with an 8-inch recline and a seat pitch of 38 inches.
Together with active noise-cancelling headphones and a sleek 13.3-inch full HD monitor which is the largest in its class, customers can look forward to an enhanced in-flight entertainment experience. Other features include a full leather finishing, calf-rest and foot-bar for every seat, individual in-seat power supply, two USB ports, personal in-seat reading light, cocktail table, and more stowage space for personal items.
Premium Economy Class will also provide an extensive range of food and beverage offerings, which includes the Premium Economy Book the Cook service, enabling advance ordering of a selection of main courses.
Priority check-in and baggage handling, with a generous baggage allowance of 35kg, will be offered to customers. Members of the KrisFlyer frequent-flyer programme will also receive 10% more miles when they fly in Premium Economy Class.
Premium Economy Class will be progressively introduced on 19 Airbus A380s, 19 Boeing 777-300ERs and the first 20 Airbus A350s. It will enter commercial service on financial year end 2015 to Sydney, before being introduced to other destinations such as Beijing, Delhi, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, London, Mumbai, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo and Zurich.
Having recently moved to the Middle East, what are your plans for the region?
I am very happy to be based in Dubai, UAE as we celebrate our 40th anniversary of flying to Dubai in 2016. UAE has played a very important role for us for the last 40 years and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
As GM for Gulf and the region, I am responsible for UAE, GCC countries and West Africa. At Singapore Airlines, we review our network operations on a regular basis in order to match capacity with demand and where there are opportunities for growth, we will take the decision. The Middle East and the Gulf is a fast growing region with plenty of opportunities. We are carefully assessing the situation.
How has been SIA’s growth over last 5 years?
In the last 5 years, the SIA group has expanded through its portfolio of airlines. We established Scoot in 1 Nov 2011, which is a low cost, medium to long haul airline to expand our operations. We have also increased our equity share in Tiger Airways, a low cost short haul airline. In essence, the SIA group has SIA as a full service carrier serving short haul metropolis, medium and long haul routes, SilkAir, a full service short haul carrier serving regional points, Scoot, our low cost carrier serving medium to long haul destinations and Tiger, our low cost carrier serving short haul destinations from Singapore.
In 2013, we also started a joint venture airline, named Vistara with Tata, based in India. We are well positioned to tap into India’s growing affluence with Vistara’s premium positioning in the country. India with its big population and vast land mass is a huge market for domestic and international flights.
We are also actively expanding our code share arrangements with other carriers in order to increase the network connectivity for our customers.
How do you see Dubai Expo 2020 as an opportunity for SIA?
Firstly, I am very happy that Dubai won the Expo 2020. This will be the first time that a World Expo is held in the MENA and South Asian region. Dubai, with its modern facilities and an international aviation hub is well positioned to ensure that it will be a great success. Expo 2020 is expected to generate a lot of visitors to the UAE. This is a very good opportunity for us to fly our customers from various part of the world to the UAE.
How significant is the route for Middle East Travelers to Singapore or South East Asia?
With 10x a week services from Dubai to Singapore, our customers can fly to Singapore for convenient connections to the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, China, Japan, to name a few. Transiting at Changi International Airport, regularly rated as the best airport in the world, is a breeze. Passengers will be spoilt for choice with the array of activities that can be found at the airport itself : butterfly park, cinema and many boutique shops and restaurants. Passengers with more than 5 ½ hours of transit time can avail to a free city tour to downtown Singapore. As an added bonus, passengers from UAE on Singapore Airlines can get SGD20 voucher at Changi Airport which can be used for lounge access or any of the shops and restaurants.
As this route is important to us, we are flying B777-300ER for SQ495/SQ494. We have the widest business class seat on this route with 1-2-1 seating configuration, which guarantees aisle access for every seat. Our Economy Class seating configuration of 3-3-3 is also the most spacious and comfortable. For the discerning passengers, nothing beats First Class, with its very personalized service.
Come 12 January 2016, we will have even better seats with the next generation seat updates on First, Business and Economy Class. And this aircraft will come equipped with Premium Economy Class.
Are low cost carriers a threat to full service airline companies?
Low cost carriers help to grow the pie. With more people travelling internationally, they are keen to try out new product and services, that’s where we will fill this niche market. So in a way, LCCs help to make air travel accessible to more people and thus expand the market as more people make use of the opportunities and choices available to them. In addition, we are keen to tap into the price sensitive segment and have Scoot and Tiger Airways to fill up this space.
How is SIA dealing with its competition and in specific, with the low cost carriers?
SIA will continue to strengthen its three pillars of product innovation, service excellence and network connectivity. We have invested heavily in new cabin products, the recently introduced Premium Economy class, we will continue to take delivery of A330s, B777-300ERs, A380s and by this financial year end, the game changing A350s will be introduced into service. We will also continue to invest on our staff in terms of training and explore opportunities to further expand our route network organically, through code share arrangements, and partnerships with other airlines.
As mentioned above, to compete in the low cost short haul, medium and long haul LCC segments, we have Tiger Airways and Scoot. In the full-service space, Singapore Airlines and SilkAir work closely together and we have partnerships with many other airlines. This is what we call our portfolio strategy, giving us a presence in all the key market segments from the Singapore hub. In addition, we are expanding into other markets, such as through Vistara in India and NokScoot in Thailand.
What do you have to say about the global aviation industry and how is SIA positioned – globally as well as in the Gulf region?
The global aviation industry will get even more competitive with capacity increases and ‘price wars’ in the coming years as many airlines have made big aircraft orders which will be delivered in the near future.
The SIA group is well poised to weather the competition and succeed with our portfolio of airlines, which I mentioned earlier. This is our strategy for the future.
As for SIA itself, we will continue to try to improve the product and service that customers expect of us. We have launched Customer Experience Management system to help our staff service our customers better by having a 360 view of the customer across all the various touch points.