Long haul ambitions of Asian carriers

From launching longhaul LCC to pushing the limits of ultra-longhaul flights, Asia’s full-service airlines are now riding the new generation of fuel-efficient aircraft and robust passenger demand to fly longer and farther than before

Singapore Airlines will begin its Singapore to Los Angeles service in November using A350-900ULR aircraft.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has embarked on a three-year transformation programme, with a strong focus on scaling up its digital capabilities and capacity amid stiff competition.

A significant step in its transformation is the upcoming integration of SilkAir into SIA, after the regional arm undergoes significant upgrades of more than S$100 million (US$73 million) to its cabins, including new lie-flat seats in business class and the installation of seat-back in-flight entertainment systems in both business class and economy class.

These upgrades are expected to start in 2020, which will ensure greater product and service consistency across SIA Group’s full-service network.

Singapore Airlines will begin its Singapore to Los Angeles service in November using A350-900ULR aircraft.

SIA plans to open up ultra-long-range (ULR) services with its upcoming fleet of A350-900ULR aircraft, starting with non-stop flights between Singapore and Los Angeles on November 2.

Meanwhile, the existing service to Los Angeles via Seoul will cease after November 30, but the daily service to Los Angeles via Tokyo will remain. Los Angeles will be served 17 times per week by the airline.

SIA will also launch the world’s longest non-stop flights between Singapore and New York from October 11. The thrice-weekly service will take almost 19 hours on the new A350-900ULR, which will have no economy class seating.

In addition, SIA will increase its existing daily non-stop Singapore-San Francisco services to 10 flights per week from November 28. Its route to San Francisco via Hong Kong will remain in operation.

These new developments will raise SIA’s number of weekly non-stop flights between Singapore and the US to 27 by end-2018.

The latest destinations added to SIA’s longhaul network from Singapore include non-stop services to San Francisco, Dusseldorf and Stockholm via Moscow. On the medium-haul, SIA now serves Canberra and Wellington. – Pamela Chow

Recent years have proven to be rather tumultuous for Thai Airways International, as the carrier continues its plan launched in April 2015 as part of cost restructuring effort while battling Thailand’s aviation downgrades that limited its expansion plans.

the Airbus A350-900 is among the newest planes on Thai Airways’ longhaul fleet. (Photo by © Airbus SAS 2017 – All rights reserved.)

Things started looking up for Thai Airways with ICAO’s removal of Thailand’s red flag status last October, giving the carrier “more flexibility on route planning for both longhaul and regional routes”, commented the airline’s executive vice president, commercial, Wiwat Piyawiroj.

Thai Airways expects the US Federal Aviation Administration to upgrade Thailand to Category 1 within this year, which would pave the way for the launch of US routes. The airline has not operated services to the US since suspending its Bangkok-Los Angeles service in October 2015.

“Our plans for the US market are to enhance codeshare cooperation with our Star Alliance partners in order to offer an expanded network for customers,” said Wiwat.

Thai Airways passengers currently can fly to 14 destinations in North America through the airline’s codeshare agreements.

Europe, a key market for Thai Airways, is meanwhile showing improved performance as the European economy picks up growth.

“European travellers visiting Thailand in 2018 already showed an increase of 7.5 per cent while in 2017 it was at 5.4 per cent,” Wiwat shared. “Our European routes performed very well for the first five months this year, especially to Germany for both Frankfurt and Munich, and to the three Scandinavian destinations as well as Zurich.”

He added: “No new destinations (in Europe) are planned at the moment, as we do not have sufficient aircraft for expansion. Our strategy for now is to grow the non-daily flights to daily for routes such as Brussels, Vienna and the two Italian destinations – Milan and Rome.”

Thai Airways’ longhaul fleet number will be maintained for now, as its aircraft acquisition plan is pending government approval, Wiwat told TTG Asia. THAI took delivery of seven aircraft in 2017, comprising five Airbus A350-900s and two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

In September, the Thai flag carrier has proposed a revised turnaround plan to the State Enterprises Policy Commission. – Xinyi Liang-Pholensa

Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) longhaul network – comprising only six destinations across the US, Canada and the UK – is getting a much-needed boost with its current fleet modernisation.

The carrier has six firm orders for Airbus A350-900 XWB, four of which are up for delivery starting June this year and two in mid-2019, with options for an additional six. The A350-900s will be deployed on the new non-stop flight from Manila to JFK Airport in New York beginning October and on the daily Manila-London (Heathrow) service by end-October this year.

The US is one of the Philippines’ biggest inbound markets served by PAL through non-stop flights from Manila to Los Angeles, San Francisco and soon New York.

The nonstop flight from Cebu to Los Angeles, which was temporarily shelved due to the lack of bigger aircraft, is expected to be resumed with the delivery of the A350-900s.

PAL president and COO Jaime Bautista said that “services to other points in North America and/or Europe are expected to follow as more aircraft join the fleet over the next 12 months, including possible routes to Seattle, Chicago and a point in western Europe”.

The refleeting with “more innovations and product refinements” is aligned with (PAL’s) goal to be rated five-star on Skytrax from the current four-star, Bautista said.

Bautista said that PAL “will take in 27 new aircraft” starting with the new A350-900s and the six A321neos for delivery this year until next, two of which have already arrived in Manila.

The A321neo is now in use for the Manila-Brisbane service launched in May and has increased its weekly services from three to five since July.

PAL has also configured its A330-343 aircraft to increase the overall capacity by 22 per cent to stimulate leisure and business travel. The 414 seats were reduced to 309 for wider legroom and fewer seats on each row, and cabin amenities enhanced.

Since June, the thrice-weekly Manila-Auckland service is using the tri-class A330-343 with 18 business class, 24 premium economy and 267 economy seats. Other medium-haul destinations using the reconfigured A330 include Honolulu, Sydney and Melbourne. – Rosa Ocampo

Following the lifting of the EU’s ban on Indonesian airlines in June, Europe is now coming into greater focus for Garuda Indonesia as the carrier plots its longhaul expansion strategy.

The airline has started to assess several destinations in Europe, with the Jakarta-Paris route scheduled for launch in winter 2019, while it will increase the Jakarta-Amsterdam service from six-times weekly to daily in November 2018.

Sigit Muhartono, director of international cargo & commerce at Garuda Indonesia, said Paris is chosen for its hub status in Europe.

“The market potential in France is the highest among others (in Europe), for both business and leisure markets,” he explained.

Sigit added that France is Indonesia’s biggest source market in Europe. Data from the Visit Indonesia Tourism Office in France show that 162,288 Parisians visited Bali in 2017, rising 10.1 per cent from 147,413 visitors in 2016.

He added: “We also look at the patterns of Indonesians travelling to Europe. Most of them start from Amsterdam, then travel around Europe by land and end the journey in Paris and fly out from there.”

At press time, Garuda Indonesia is also in the midst of signing a codeshare agreement with Air France to offer customers daily connections between Jakarta and Paris, adding to the carrier’s codeshare partnership with KLM to fly in 19 destinations.

“We are also working on a codeshare agreement with Aeroflot, (not only for the Russian market but) for East Europe in general, (as part of our) focus to strengthen our network in Europe,” said Sigit.

Next on Garuda’s radar is to add Turkey onto its flight network to position it as a hub for both East Europe and the Middle East.

Sigit added: “Turkey is very strategic, close to Eastern Europe (and Aeroflot has many flights here). We want to connect Indonesia with Eastern Europe this way.”

Meanwhile, Garuda is looking connect to Los Angeles via Tokyo. Said Sigit: “We are still waiting for the route permission from the government of Japan to enable the service to transit in Tokyo. Once this is done, we will fly the Jakarta-Los Angeles route.” – Tiara Maharani

Barely two years since the airline began its transformation campaign, Cathay Pacific (CX) has launched non-stop routes to a slew of longhaul destinations served by the Airbus A350 fleet, including Barcelona, Brussels, Christchurch, Copenhagen, London-Gatwick, Tel Aviv, and, most recently, Dublin.

Economy class in Cathay Pacific

Frequencies on a number of the airline’s most popular routes, including Barcelona and Tel Aviv, are also boosted in 2018.

A spokesperson said: “One of the goals of (CX’s) transformation is to find new sources of revenue by flying to destinations that people want to visit and connecting Hong Kong directly to new places for the first time. Examples include Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Christchurch, Brussels, Copenhagen, Washington DC, Cape Town, Nanning and Jinan, Medan and Davao, etc.

“We are opening a record nine new destinations this year. In addition to the destinations already launched so far this year, i.e. Brussels (March), Copenhagen (May) and Dublin (June), we will be commencing flights to Washington DC (September) and Cape Town (November) this year.”

As of June 2018, CX and Cathay Dragon have a combined fleet of 195 aircraft. Of the 78 new aircraft expected to be delivered by 2024, the airline received its first A350-1000 aircraft in June, with a total of eight A350-1000s set for delivery in 2018.

CX chief customer and commercial officer, Paul Loo, said: “We already have one of the youngest long-haul fleets in the sky, and with the arrival of the Airbus A350-1000, our fleet is only going to get younger. The aircraft follows the successful entry of the -900 variant which has enabled us to expand our longhaul network at a near unprecedented rate, providing our customers with a wider range of non-stop travel choices.”

The remaining 12 A350-1000 order will arrive by 2021. After initial rounds of regional services, starting with Taipei on July 1, 2018, the new Washington DC service will be launched on September 25 on the A350-1000, which at 8,153 miles  (13,121km) makes it the longest on the airline’s network.

This aircraft will also serve Madrid, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Manchester and Zurich from the coming winter. – Prudence Lui

Japan Airlines (JAL), the nation’s flag carrier, has announced a dramatic departure from its long-held aversion to operating a LCC and will commence commercial operations with a new budget airline from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from summer 2020, ultimately targeting longhaul travellers.

“The company decided to establish a new carrier to accommodate a new generation of visitors who are expected to visit Japan heading into 2020 and beyond,” Tetsuya Onuki, managing executive officer of JAL’s international route marketing division, told TTG Asia.

“JAL currently has a LCC investment in Jetstar Japan, which is an airline built on a business plan featuring shorthaul routes,” said Onuki. “On the other hand, the new LCC business will focus on medium- to longhaul international routes.

The as yet unnamed airline will initially operate Boeing 787-8 aircraft in order to rival similar LCCs on regional routes before spreading its wings into Europe and the Americas, Onuki added.

During this summer season, JAL is operating 140 flights a week between the Americas and Japan, as well as 42 from European destinations and a further 14 from Australasian cities, giving a total of 392 round-trips per week between Japan and longhaul destinations.

The latest addition to the company’s longhaul repertoire was the September 2017 launch of daily flights to Melbourne, a result of growing demand on the route thanks to the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement of 2015.

In FY2019, JAL will seasonally increase flights between Tokyo (Narita) and Chicago (O’Hare) from June 8 to September 3, 2019, featuring 11 flights per week.

On flights between Osaka (Kansai) and Los Angeles, JAL will now feature full-flat seats in business class, in addition to the introduction of premium economy class service with the JAL Sky Suite 787-9 aircraft.

On its existing longhaul routes, JAL operates the Boeing 777-300ER, 777-200ER, 787-8 or 787-9 aircraft for the “technical advantages” available on the aircraft.

The carrier began rolling out the JAL Sky Suite in 2013 to enhance the passenger experience, featuring top-of-the-range options including wider seats in economy class. – Julian Ryall

Amid concerns of escalating fuel prices, Malaysia Airlines does not have plans to introduce any new longhaul routes or add capacity on existing routes, but will instead focus on marketing the premium segment to cushion the airline from rising costs, TTG Asia understands.

On January 15, the airline replaced its Airbus A380 operations with the more fuel-efficient A350-900 on the twice-daily Kuala Lumpur-London sector.

The 486-seat A380 was deemed too large for optimal efficiency on the London route and hence the airline made a decision to reduce capacity by over 40 per cent with the smaller A350-900 aircraft fitted with 286 seats.

London is currently the only destination in Europe the airline flies to, while it depends on the Oneworld alliance airlines to connect to the rest of Europe and North America.

The airline had suspended flights to Los Angeles since April 2014 as part of a route rationalisation exercise to stem losses.

Malaysia Airlines has relaunched four-times weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane on June 1. This route had previously been axed from the network in 2015 amid a network rationalisation exercise.

Loads since the reinstatement has been described by Malaysia Airlines as “encouraging” in an email reply end-June. – S Puvaneswary

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