Singapore Airlines has announced that it will not return to four cities on its usual 64-strong global network, as it modifies its future route plans for “a very different aviation landscape” even after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
The news comes a week after the national carrier announced it would make 2,400 staff redundant across the business, with the SIA group forced to adapt to a new shape and size that inevitably involves a smaller fleet and ultimately a thinner route structure.
Four routes dropped
In a regular monthly operating update for September 2020, Singapore Airlines has revealed that it will close four stations as part of a network review assessing its post-COVID-19 operations.
The following cities will see a permanent withdrawal of passenger service from the carrier:
“Singapore Airlines will suspend services to Canberra, Dusseldorf, Stockholm and Wellington as part of a review of its network due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These stations will be closed as a result of this decision.”Singapore Airlines, 15 September 2020
All flights on these routes have now been removed from the reservations system.Note: In aviation speak “suspend” usually means “cancel”, especially in this case where services to these cities are already “suspended” (since March 2020).
Singapore Airlines first launched Boeing 777-200ER flights to Canberra as part of its four times weekly “Capital Express”, with continued service to Wellington, in September 2016.
These flights later shifted to a Singapore – Sydney – Canberra – Singapore triangle routing in May 2018, with service upgrading to Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on a daily basis (SQ288), also offering a First Class cabin.
The final service on this routing was on 18th March 2020, when it was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Upon full frequency resumption SIA’s Sydney route will also lose seven services per week as a result of this service cancellation, with SQ288 no longer programmed. Singapore – Sydney will drop to four times daily service as a result.
In Australia, Singapore Airlines still plans to operate to Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, with SilkAir (and eventually SIA post-merger) operating to Cairns and Darwin, for a total of seven cities.
Dusseldorf became SIA’s third German destination on 21st July 2016. From inception, the route has been operated by the Airbus A350.
Initially flights were introduced three times per week, increasing to four times weekly from 27th March 2018.
The final flight from Singapore to Dusseldorf was SQ338 on 16th March 2020, with the same aircraft returning back to Changi just before 6am on 18th March 2020 as SQ337.
Singapore Airlines plans to continue service to two other German cities – Frankfurt and Munich.
Singapore Airlines launched services to Stockholm on 30th May 2017, with service from Singapore via Moscow using Airbus A350 aircraft.
The city continued to be served five times weekly since inception, with the final flight operating to the Swedish capital on 14th March 2020.
Singapore Airlines will retain flights to Copenhagen in Denmark, its only other Scandinavian route.
With the removal of both Stockholm and Dusseldorf services, SIA’s European operation drops from a planned 15 cities this year (including Brussels) to 12 cities after the resizing.
Wellington was launched into the Singapore Airlines network as part of the same “Capital Express” service tagged onto Canberra flights from September 2016.
When Canberra service was adjusted to operate via Sydney in 2018, the Wellington service was retained instead operating via Melbourne as SQ247/248. It even gained a long-haul 3-class Airbus A350 in October 2019 (but only because Boeing 777-200s were being phased out), before the final flight operated on 21st March 2020.
Upon full frequency resumption the carrier’s Melbourne route will also lose five services per week as a result of this service cancellation, with SQ247/248 no longer programmed. Singapore – Melbourne will drop to four times daily service as a result.
Singapore Airlines will retain flights to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand, under current plans.
More to come?
A reduction in the post-COVID fleet for Singapore Airlines compared to 2019 levels will mean inevitable frequency reductions on many routes, while some cities may disappear from the network altogether.
In total the removal of the flights outlined above on four routes from SIA’s normal full schedule will result in an approximate monthly capacity reduction of 320 million passenger seat-km, around 2.8% of the usual level.
Clearly there will be a much bigger impact than that overall with the fleet contracting, though much of this will come down to frequency cuts rather than permanent route withdrawals.
That said, there will no doubt be other cities on the network where the airline will not return.
Earlier this year Singapore Airlines also cancelled plans to operate flights to and from Brussels, a route resumption scuppered by COVID-19 having (somewhat ironically) first been culled in 2003 during the SARS outbreak.
“The SIA Group continues to review its fleet and network plans as it prepares for a very different aviation landscape due to Covid-19. The Group will continue to closely monitor demand patterns in international air travel, and be flexible and nimble in deploying capacity in response.”Singapore Airlines, 15 September 2020
The carrier has also withdrawn its Sapporo flights from the schedules this December, though with no formal announcement it’s unclear whether this is a permanent intention. Seasonal services to Japan’s snow sports capital have been a feature on SIA’s roster since 2014.
A fleet reduction for the “post-COVID” Singapore Airlines, which could easily total 25% of the existing inventory (i.e. around 30 aircraft), meant that route withdrawals were somewhat inevitable.
In this case we’re seeing three ‘tag’ routes curtailed – Canberra via Sydney, Stockholm via Moscow and Wellington via Melbourne.
These are likely to be financially marginal at the best of times, and it’s well known that even with ‘fifth freedom’ rights in the case of Moscow ⇄ Stockholm and Melbourne ⇄ Wellington, foreign airlines find it difficult to command high fares on these services, often having to undercut well-known incumbent carriers.
Propping up the longer sectors to and from Singapore with feeder traffic is the primary aim, though it’s rarely a ‘cash cow’.
Dusseldorf, the fourth route we won’t see returning after COVID, was most recently operated four times per week using Airbus A350 aircraft. SIA always seemed to struggle filling Business Class seats on this route even before COVID-19, with the city making a regular appearance in the monthly ‘Spontaneous Escapes’ offers, typically with 30% off the usual redemption rate for last-minute bookings.
With these route cuts representing less than 3% of SIA’s usual capacity, sadly there are probably more announcements like this to come over the months ahead.
(Cover Photo: Skycolors / Shutterstock)