As our national carrier has almost completely suspended operations this month, we decided it was a good time to reflect on some of the great history Singapore Airlines has enjoyed over the years, even in its early days of operation just a few years after splitting from Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) in 1972, the start of the process that made SIA what it is today.
Airline Timetable Images kindly hosts a scanned copy of the Singapore Airlines passenger and freighter timetable from summer 1976, which came into effect almost exactly 44 years ago.
Regrettably of course given the COVID-19 situation, it was a far bigger network in summer 1976 than the airline is currently flying, however it was a far cry from today’s ‘usual’ SIA with only 27 destinations compared with the normal 2020 network of 65+ global cities.
Four years after splitting from MSA, the Singapore Airlines we all now know and love was still in its relative infancy during the May – October 1976 summer season.
At the time the airline operated an all-Boeing fleet totalling just 21 aircraft. It comprised 11 Boeing 707s, 5 Boeing 737s and 5 Boeing 747s.
|Singapore Airlines Fleet (1976)|
|Aircraft Type||In Fleet||Routes|
|Boeing 707-320B||3||Australia / NZ, North Asia, SE Asia, India, Middle East, Europe|
|Boeing 737-100||5||Regional (Bangkok, Brunei, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Medan)|
|Boeing 747-200||5||Australia, North Asia, SE Asia, India, Middle East, Europe|
Printed airline timetables were common across the world right up until the early 2000s, but soon stopped being produced by most airlines as the internet and mobile apps largely replaced any necessity for these.
Some airlines like Delta, JAL and ANA still produce PDF timetables for you to download from their websites, but most including SIA no longer bother.
This particular timetable is the slimline edition for the summer 1976 season from 1st May 1976 to 31st October 1976.
The network spanned 28 destinations across 23 countries, with cities from London through to Auckland on the roster, however US services (with passenger aircraft at least) were still three years away.
Back then these resembled railway timetables more than the airline schedules you see today, with each route or series of routes shown in a directional sense with the flights in columns and the stops / times in rows. A completely separate table showed the timings on the same routes in the opposite direction.
This was a fairly logical way to display the schedules in 1976, when the same aircraft typically made several stops on its journey from origin to ultimate destination – much less common today with the vast majority of Singapore Airlines flights flying simple point-to-point services.
If you wanted to fly from Singapore to London for example, the easiest way was to find the flights that ended up there (from the last row of the timetable you can see there were seven each week).
They all departed from Singapore at 8.30pm each evening but with different flight numbers and usually a slightly different routing day by day.
Fun fact: Your best bet for getting some sleep on a Singapore – London flight in 1976 was probably to take one of the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Sunday flights that went via Bangkok then took a long 6.5-hour overnight non-stop leg to Bahrain (yes, 6.5 hours was long in those days!). Monday and Saturday departures meant taking in an extra stop in India.
SIA had a separate timetable for its multiple short hops to and from Kuala Lumpur and Brunei, covering 122 flights per week on these routes.
Interesting to note that SIA was already flying 52 flights per week to Kuala Lumpur, not far off the 69 the airline (normally) flies per week today, including SilkAir’s services.
Fun fact: 50 minutes was the scheduled flight time (gate-to-gate) between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in 1976. Today, most flights on this city pair are scheduled at 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Planes haven’t become slower – longer taxi times and more complex airborne routings due to higher traffic volumes are to blame.
The timetables also showed what kind of in-flight meal would be served sector-by-sector.
As you can see in this example of a Singapore to London flight, a light meal was served between Singapore and Bangkok, followed by ‘substantial refreshments’ (whatever those are!) from Bangkok to Bahrain.
The following morning it was breakfast between Bahrain and Rome, then refreshments from to Frankfurt (except for new joiners in Rome who were treated to breakfast), followed by yet more refreshments between Frankfurt and London.
A total of five meals on the nearly 22-hour journey, assuming you wanted them all!
Only the longest non-stop flights on the network (Singapore to and from Sydney and Melbourne) offered two meal services on the same flight, depending on the time of day.
Work had started on preparing Changi Airbase as the site for Singapore’s new international airport in June 1975, almost a year before this timetable was in effect, however it would be a further five years before SIA’s operations moved across to the new airport.
That means all the flights you see in this timetable operated to and from what is now Paya Lebar Airbase (opened in 1954 as Singapore International Airport and operated under that title until 1981 when Changi commenced operations).
Today Paya Lebar is almost exclusively used as a military base, but also acts as an alternate airport for Changi (accepting flight diversions if necessary) and is home to a SASCO heavy aircraft maintenance facility, so it does see occasional civil aircraft operations.
Similarly, think ‘Kai Tak’ when you see Hong Kong mentioned in these timetables, ‘Don Mueang’ for Bangkok and ‘Itami’ for Osaka.
Boeing 707 network
The Boeing 707 fleet was the airline’s workhorse in 1976, with 10 passenger variants in service plus one dedicated freighter.
Don’t be confused by the Boeing 707-320B / -320C designations in the table above, the ‘C’ model could simply be converted between passenger and freight operation while the ‘B’ was a passenger-only aircraft. SIA only used one of it’s ‘C’ models as a freighter in 1976.
The passenger aircraft alone flew 189 flights per week (close to an average of three flights per aircraft per day). With a range of up to 5,000 miles, Sydney was well within reach and was the longest non-stop flight from Singapore, while Singapore to Kuala Lumpur was the shortest hop.
Despite mostly operating in the Asia-Pacific region, the passenger Boeing 707s also made two weekly trips to Europe. Starting in Perth at lunchtime every Tuesday and Saturday they would fly to Singapore then onward to Amsterdam via Colombo, Dubai and Zurich.
It was then an identical routing in reverse landing back in Perth in the early hours of Friday morning and Tuesday morning respectively, the whole round-trip taking 2.5 days in total.
Most of SIA’s Boeing 707s were second hand from US carriers Continental (now United) and Braniff (now defunct). Two aircraft had come from Qantas and the three Boeing 707-320Bs were delivered new to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines in the late 60’s. They remained in the fleet until the early 1980s.
Boeing 707 cargo network
Unlike Singapore Airlines today, which has a fleet of seven dedicated Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft as its ‘pure’ cargo workhorse, back in 1976 the airline had just one Boeing 707 freighter in its fleet.
The aircraft had a regular weekly flying schedule, setting off from Singapore just after midnight every Monday morning, destined for Amsterdam via Dubai.
After landing back in Singapore the following afternoon via the reverse routing, the aircraft had a day off before departing again in the early hours of Thursday morning for Los Angeles via Hong Kong, Guam and Honolulu.
The reverse of that routing saw the aircraft back in Paya Lebar just before 2am on Saturday before one last sortie to Paris via Bahrain just a few hours later, returning via Zurich and Bahrain at 5pm on Sunday evening ready to set off on the same schedule again just 7 hours later.
As you can see from the timetable, Singapore Airlines also had a joint cargo flight with KLM during May 1976, however this was operated by one of the Dutch carrier’s DC-8s, a type never used by SIA.
Boeing 737 network
Although part of the same family, the Boeing 737-100 is not to be confused with the very capable 737s of today, like SilkAir’s 737-800 which can fly with a full payload for up to 6 hours (3,000 miles).
The 737-100 had a range of only 1,500 miles, around 3 hours, meaning even Hong Kong was out of reach from Paya Lebar (SIA used 747-200s in 1976 to fly non-stop flights there).
Only 30 Boeing 737-100s were ever built, with SIA operating five of them including the last one ever delivered. Most airlines then opted for the larger and longer-range 737-200, though SIA never ordered those.
The Boeing 737 is set to rejoin the Singapore Airlines fleet with the eventual merger of SilkAir into the mainline carrier in the coming years, though it’s uncertain whether the timeline and arrangements will now shift as a consequence of COVID-19.
All of SIA’s Boeing 737s were originally delivered new to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines in 1969, before transferring to Singapore Airlines. They remained in the fleet until 1980.
Fun fact: Tradewinds Charters, a wholly owned division of Singapore Airlines, was set up in 1976 – the same year this timetable was published. It sub-leased SIA aircraft to begin with, not becoming an airline in its own right until 1989, but later went on to become SilkAir.
Boeing 747 network
The five Boeing 747-200s in the SIA fleet were its main key to Europe, higher density North Asia routes, and the ‘Kangaroo Route’ linking the UK with Australia.
As you can see even getting to Tokyo wasn’t a simple affair in 1976, with at least two stops involved whether you took the Boeing 707 or the Boeing 747-200. Most of us would scoff these days at a single transit on a Singapore – Japan flight, even if it saved us some money!
With the Boeing 707 only flying to a couple of the smaller European cities, it was the Boeing 747-200 that was dedicated to serving most of the SIA network there, including several intra-Europe routes, though aside from London none of these cities saw daily service.
In 1976, Singapore Airlines redesigned its first class upper-deck lounge on the Boeing 747-200s, adding six so-called ‘slumberettes’ – sofas that converted into flat beds.
The five Boeing 747-200s in service in 1976 had all been delivered new to Singapore Airlines, joining the fleet from 1973. More aircraft arrived later and the type remained in service with the airline until 1994 as a passenger aircraft and until 1995 as a freighter.
The ‘Kangaroo Route’
The ‘Kangaroo Route’ between Australia and the UK started in the mid 1930s, with aircraft flying between Brisbane and London. Qantas later trademarked the term, though it became widely used as a marketing slogan by many carriers.
As you’ve seen above and as the timetables show, Singapore Airlines already had a strong presence on the Kangaroo Route in 1976 using its Boeing 747-200s. Here’s an example of SQ713, operating from Melbourne to London:
- 11:15 Melbourne – Sydney 13:30
- 14:30 Sydney – Singapore 18:50
- 20:30 Singapore – Bombay 23:25
- 00:25 Bombay – Bahrain 01:10
- 02:25 Bahrain – Athens 06:25
- 07:25 Athens – Paris 09:35
- 10:35 Paris – London 10:40
This routing was flown by the same aircraft using the same flight number throughout the seven-leg journey.
Of course not everyone was flying all the way through from start to finish, with passengers joining and leaving the plane at various intermediate points subject to SIA’s traffic rights. Total travel time if you started in Melbourne and flew all the way through to London was 32 hours and 25 minutes.
COVID-19 aside, today SIA passengers can fly from Melbourne to London in as little as 22 hours 20 minutes, with a short 55-minute transit in Singapore, though the same aircraft does not operate all the way through and two different flight numbers are used.
There were a variety of routings and stopover points on these flights between Europe and Australia, with some flights also extending to New Zealand. For example each Monday, Friday and Saturday afternoon at 3.30pm a Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-200 would depart from London bound for Australia, however it never took the exact same routing.
- Monday: London – Amsterdam – Rome – Bahrain – Bangkok – Singapore – Sydney
- Friday: London – Paris – Athens – Bahrain – Bombay – Singapore – Sydney – Melbourne
- Saturday: London – Frankfurt – Rome – Bahrain – Bangkok – Singapore – Sydney – Melbourne
Fifth freedom routes
In the 1970s fifth freedom traffic rights were commonplace, with aircraft having far less range than they do today, necessitating several stops on longer routes.
This made it essential for airlines to be able to pick up and drop off revenue passengers at intermediate points in order for the services to be viable.
During the summer of 1976 it was therefore possible to buy tickets on a range of Singapore Airlines flights without touching Singapore itself, including:
- Hong Kong – Osaka
- Hong Kong – Taipei
- Taipei – Tokyo
- Sydney – Auckland
- Jakarta – Sydney
- London – Amsterdam
- London – Frankfurt
- plus others
Singapore Airlines did not have traffic rights between:
- Colombo and Amsterdam
- Colombo and Madras
- Bombay and Bahrain
- Bombay and Paris
- Melbourne and Sydney
- Rome and Amsterdam
Additionally only the airline’s own stopover passengers were allowed to join flights between:
- Athens and Paris
- Bahrain and Paris
- London and Paris
Seems like the French in particular weren’t keen on sharing their air market with foreign airlines at the time!
For example you could depart from Singapore to Athens on a Monday evening, landing on Tuesday morning, then spend a four-night stopover there before continuing on the next SIA flight passing through to Paris on Saturday morning.
New passengers flying solely from Athens to Paris however would not be able to buy a ticket for this part of the journey in isolation.
Destinations no longer served
Despite a big increase in SIA’s network over the last 40 years, the airline was flying to a few cities in 1976 which it no longer serves.
Singapore Airlines no longer flies to Medan (now operated by SilkAir, but will return to SIA in the coming years due to the merger between the two carriers).
Bahrain and Athens are also no longer served, the latter ending in October 2012 but since picked up by budget subsidiary Scoot in June 2017.
Flight numbers still used today
Singapore Airlines has significantly changed its flight numbering system since 1976, however there are a few flight numbers that were in use then and still are today.
In some cases, they even correspond to the same route, or a similar routing.
|Flight No.||Then (1976)||Now (2020)|
|SQ111 / 113 / 117 / 119||Kuala Lumpur to Singapore||Kuala Lumpur to Singapore|
|SQ112 / 118||Singapore to Kuala Lumpur||Singapore to Kuala Lumpur|
|SQ207||Jakarta to Singapore||Singapore to Melbourne|
|SQ208||Singapore to Jakarta||Melbourne to Singapore|
|SQ306||Singapore to Sydney||Singapore to London|
|SQ308||Singapore to Perth||Singapore to London|
|SQ609||Bangkok to Singapore||Seoul to Singapore|
|SQ611||Bangkok to Singapore||Seoul to Singapore|
|SQ612||Singapore to Bangkok||Singapore to Seoul|
|SQ631||Osaka to Singapore via Hong Kong and Bangkok||Tokyo Haneda to Singapore|
|SQ632||Singapore to Osaka via Bangkok and Hong Kong||Singapore to Tokyo Haneda|
|SQ637||Tokyo to Singapore via Taipei and Hong Kong||Tokyo Narita to Singapore|
|SQ638||Singapore to Tokyo via Hong Kong and Taipei||Singapore to Tokyo Narita|
With the airline still in relative infancy in 1976 there were many significant changes after that.
Boeing 727s joined the following year, and between 1977 and 1980 a Concorde featured the Singapore Airlines livery down one side for flights to and from London. While the aircraft itself was operated by British Airways, the cabin crew were a mix between the two carriers.
In 1978 the DC-10s started to arrive, opening up the airline’s first US service to San Francisco (the well-known SQ1/2) the following year, then in the 1980s the airline also operated A300s, A310s, 757-200s and 747-300s.
It was fascinating to look back at a much smaller (but certainly no less simple) Singapore Airlines operation in 1976.
The complexities of having a fleet of just 21 aircraft with so many of them so far from home at any one time on some circuitous routings to say the least must have been vast, especially in the days before mobile phones, the internet and satellite tracking seen in modern airline operations centres.
Singapore Airlines is currently dealing with the biggest crisis in its history, so it’s good to look back and reflect on its early successes as it set out to become the world renowned company it is today, even if it is sad to note the airline was flying six times as many passenger flights in May 1976 than it is in April 2020.
Let’s hope in two-and-a-half years’ time, when the airline celebrates its 50th anniversary, it’s back to full strength.
We believe the last printed Singapore Airlines timetable was produced for the winter 2008/09 season, around 12 years ago, after which schedule information was only available online as it is today.
If you have any of the old Singapore Airlines printed timetables from other years, please get in touch as we’d love to see them and would happily replicate this analysis from a different era like the 1980s or 1990s.
(Cover Photo: Frank C. Duarte Jr.)