Singapore Airlines

What is the current Singapore Airlines cargo schedule?

Shifting cargo is currently SIA's primary business, with 80 departures from Changi per week by passenger aircraft carrying only freight on board. Where are they all going?

SQ Cargo 747 3

Most of us are now aware that Singapore Airlines is flying very few passenger services from Changi Airport each day, since early April through to at least the end of June 2020. In fact there are between just two and eight daily passenger departures, depending on the day of the week, with some of the 15 cities on the list receiving only a once weekly connection.

That doesn’t mean all other Singapore Airlines flights are grounded, however. At least a dozen SIA flights leave Changi each day carrying only cargo, either in the underfloor holds of passenger aircraft or in one of the airline’s seven dedicated Boeing 747 freighter jets.

Here’s how the airline’s 145 departures from Changi last week looked.

Singapore Airlines SIN Departures
(w/c 20th April 2020)
Day Passenger Aircraft
SQ 787 SCA Delivery (Paul Schmid)
Freighters
SQ Cargo 747
Pax +
Cargo
Cargo-
only
Mon 5 10 4
Tue 2 7 4
Wed 6 16 4
Thu 3 14 6
Fri 8 11 3
Sat 2 11 6
Sun 7 11 4
Total 34 80 31

As you can see cargo-only operations by the passenger fleet far outweigh any other kind of flights at the moment, making up over half the airline’s flying activity. There are up to 16 daily departures in this category (compared to a maximum of 8 daily passenger flights and 6 daily dedicated freighter ones).

Which routes?

Where are these 80 belly hold cargo services operating? We took a look at last week’s schedule to get an idea and listed them in the following table alongside the airline’s passenger services (which incidentally will also be carrying as much cargo as possible to maximise revenue).

Key:

Cargo-only flight
Passenger and cargo flight
Cargo outbound, pax and cargo inbound

As you can see, there is significant cargo activity to and from China and Hong Kong, including 11 weekly services to Beijing and 21 per week to Shanghai (only one of these flights each week also accepts passengers).

There are also several cargo-only flights using passenger aircraft to Australia and even some to Europe.

Singapore Airlines Passenger Fleet Activity
SIN Departures
(w/c 20th April 2020)
South East Asia
Dest Flt Days Acft
M T W T F S S
BKK SQ976 787
BWN SQ148 773
CGK SQ960 787
SQ966 359
HAN SQ176 359R
KUL SQ104 359
MNL SQ910 359R
SGN SQ178 787
SQ186 787
North Asia
Dest Flt Days Acft
M T W T F S S
ICN SQ600 787
359 R
CAN SQ850 787
PEK SQ802 359R
SQ806 77W
NRT SQ12 787
773
SQ638 787
PVG SQ828 77W
SQ830 787
SQ836 787
TPE SQ876 787
HKG SQ8252 787
South West Pacific
Dest Flt Days Acft
M T W T F S S
BNE SQ265 359
MEL SQ217 359
SQ227 77W
PER SQ213 787
SQ223 787
SYD SQ211 77W
773
SQ221 77W
SQ241 773
Europe / USA
Dest Flt Days Acft
M T W T F S S
CPH SQ352 359
FRA SQ26 77W
SQ326 77W
LAX SQ38 359
LHR SQ322 359
ZRH SQ346 77W

You probably thought Melbourne and Perth were both off the network for the time being. In fact they each see four flights a week with passenger aircraft only carrying cargo on board. Even Copenhagen is still being served, and SQ26 to Frankfurt lives on twice per week in addition to the three times weekly SQ326 flights.

Here are the top five routes for cargo-only flights using the passenger fleet:

  1. Shanghai: 20/week
  2. Beijing: 11/week
  3. Ho Chi Minh: 7/week
  4. Hong Kong: 6/week
  5. Sydney: 6/week

Aircraft types

One thing that’s clear to see from the table above is that Singapore Airlines is focusing its cargo-only operations (and remaining passenger flights for that matter) on three aircraft types:

  • Boeing 777-300s / -300ERs
  • Boeing 787-10s
  • Airbus A350-900s

We’ve had SIA crew share with us passenger loads as low as 4 (on a flight earlier this week), and not much higher than 30 on the bare bones passenger network, so this would make you think Singapore Airlines would utilise its lower capacity aircraft where possible at the moment – like the 285-seat Airbus A330, not the 337-seat Boeing 787-10.

SQ B78X 2 (Alex Wilson)
337-seat Boeing 787-10s seem a strange choice of aircraft to be using given current passenger loads, but not when you look below the cabin floor. (Photo: Alex Wilson)

In fact as we mentioned in our recent fleet update, cargo capacity is driving the decision, as shown in the following table.

Singapore Airlines Fleet
Underfloor cargo capacity
(highest to lowest)
Aircraft Type Cargo Capacity
Bulk loading LD3 containers
777-300 / -300ER 201.6 cu m 44
787-10 191.4 cu m 40
A380-800 175.2 cu m 38
A350-900 172.4 cu m 36
A330-300 158.4 cu m 32
777-200 / -200ER 150.9 cu m 32
A350-900 ULR 85.7 cu m 16

Obviously the Airbus A380 has a reasonable cargo capacity, but at close to double the hourly operating cost of an A350 it makes no sense to use these aircraft for that purpose and indeed the entire superjumbo fleet is now stored either in Changi or at Alice Springs in Australia.

SQ A380 (Phil Vabre)
A380s just don’t work for cargo-only operations. (Photo: Phil Vabre)

The Airbus A350 ULR has a deactivated forward cargo hold, severely limiting its cargo carrying capacity as you can see in the table above.

This is probably one of the main reasons SIA’s three times weekly non-stop Los Angeles flights have switched from the A350 ULR to the 3-class A350-900. With tiny passenger loads compared to usual, the airline can at least capitalise on more than double the usual cargo capacity.

Singapore Airlines will also start carrying some cargo in its passenger cabins on these flights using passenger aircraft, according to The Straits Times, after a successful trial earlier this month.

SIA Cargo in cabin (Singapore Airlines)
Cargo being carried in the cabin of a Boeing 787-10. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

The airline says it can add up to 30% more cargo capacity this way, by utilising overhead locker space and strapping cargo to seats in addition to filling the underfloor cargo hold.

One downside is that the loading process takes up to eight hours and requires three times more staff than usual.

What about the dedicated freighters?

For the first time in a while, Singapore Airlines probably wishes it had more than seven Boeing 747-400 Freighter aircraft in its fleet!

The sub-fleet has found it hard to make a profit over the last few years, with the cargo division’s own Air Operator Certificate cancelled in 2018 as the company was merged back into Singapore Airlines itself.

SQ 747 Cargo
SIA Cargo reported a S$127m loss in its final full year of independent operation

Fortunes in the industry have changed due to COVID-19 of course, with air cargo payment rates said to have soared as the industry struggles to meet the demands of global supply chains without its biggest source of capacity – the cargo holds of passenger aircraft.

Take a large global carrier like British Airways for example. Every year the airline, which has no dedicated freighters of its own, carries over 600,000 tonnes of cargo in the holds of its passenger aircraft – more than 1,600 tonnes per day. Right now, that’s fallen to practically nil.

Even Singapore Airlines, with seven dedicated freighter jumbos, carries 75% of all its cargo on its passenger aircraft in a typical year.

Where the freighters are flying

These Boeing 747 aircraft are of course working hard at the moment, but they generally always were even before the COVID-19 crisis. There isn’t much more flying the airline can extract from them.

SQC Routemap

Routes include cities in Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Interestingly North Asia isn’t significantly covered, suggesting that SIA usually relies more on its extensive passenger network in that region to carry cargo, and perhaps explaining the heavy concentration of cargo-only flights using the passenger fleet to the likes of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, as we saw in the table above.

SQ Cargo 747 Nose (Singapore Airlines)
SIA’s Boeing 747-400 Freighters can carry over 110 tonnes of cargo. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

For those interested in what the freighters were up to last week, here are the (sometimes mammoth) journeys they took:

Monday 20th April 2020

  • Singapore – Sydney – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Los Angeles – Brussels – Mumbai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Bengaluru – Sharjah – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore

Tuesday 21st April 2020

  • Singapore – Sydney – Singapore
  • Singpore – Sydney – Auckland – Melbourne – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore

Wednesday 22nd April 2020

  • Singapore – Chennai – Sharjah – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sydney – Melbourne – Auckland – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Los Angeles – Brussels – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore

Thursday 23rd April 2020

  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Dallas – Brussels – Mumbai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sydney – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sharjah – London – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Johannesburg – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sydney – Auckland – Singapore

Friday 24th April 2020

  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore

Saturday 25th April 2020

  • Singapore – Sydney – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Dallas – Brussels – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sharjah – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sharjah – London – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Melbourne – Auckland – Melbourne – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore

26th April 2020

  • Singapore – Chennai – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sydney – Melbourne – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sharjah – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore

Summary

Cargo is bigger business for Singapore Airlines than it has been for a very long time due to the drop in capacity brought about by severely reduced schedules for passenger flights across all airlines since the COVID-19 outbreak.

SQ 77W DXB Nose (Dubai Airports)
SIA’s Boeing 777-300ERs have the highest cargo capacity of any passenger aircraft in the fleet. (Photo: Dubai Airports)

More Singapore Airlines aircraft are now departing Changi each day with only pilots up front and cargo in the holds than do so with passengers on board.

Indeed nearly 3 out of every 4 of SIA’s passenger aircraft you see taking off from Changi at the moment have no passengers on them at all, a highly unusual arrangement for an airline more used to carrying nearly 60,000 customers per day.

With a skeleton passenger flying schedule extended to 30th June 2020, expect to see more Singapore Airlines aircraft flying these cargo-only services over the coming weeks.

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