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SilkAir returns to Da Nang in November

SilkAir is set to return to Vietnam with weekly Da Nang flights starting in November, though the country remains closed to tourists.

Do they know something we don't?

SIA’s regional subsidiary SilkAir has made another relatively short-term addition to its flying network, with the Vietnamese city of Da Nang joining the carrier’s schedule from 29th November 2020. It’s the second leisure-oriented destination the airline has announced a return to recently, with Malé in the Maldives restarting a couple of days later on 1st December 2020.

SilkAir, which is in the process of being fully merged into SIA’s mainline operation, has only recently started adding a significant number of passenger services, lagging well behind the mainline carrier with a current network of only seven cities, rising to nine after Da Nang and Malé join the fold.

Overall, the regional division will now operate 4.1% of its pre-COVID capacity by flight volumes in December 2020, based on comparison with December 2019.

Da Nang added

From 29th November 2020, SilkAir will add a weekly Boeing 737-800 service to and from Da Nang in Vietnam to its network.

The airport is a gateway to the Marble Mountains, UNESCO World Heritage site Mỹ Sơn and the many beach resorts along the nearby Hoi An coastline.

Many travellers to Da Nang are heading to Hoi An’s beach resorts. (Photo: Four Seasons)

Here’s how the schedule looks:

Da Nang
(from 29 Nov)
  Days Acft
M T W T F S S
SIN ➔ DAD
MI632
09:15-11:00
738
DAD ➔ SIN
MI631
11:50-15:50
738

These Sunday flights will supplement SIA’s three times weekly Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi flights, and Jetstar’s three times weekly flights to and from Ho Chi Minh.

In common with all current Singapore – Vietnam flights, services to Da Nang (MI632) will be restricted to cargo-only operation, with both passengers and cargo permitted as normal on the Da Nang – Singapore sector (MI631).

Could a Vietnam ‘Travel Bubble’ be coming?

Singapore unilaterally lifted border restrictions to visitors from Vietnam on 8th October, citing the country’s success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed Vietnam has reported fewer than 1,200 cases among its 95 million population, and recorded only 35 deaths.

Visitors from the country can now travel to Singapore for any purpose, including tourism, under the ‘Air Travel Pass’ scheme.

However, Vietnam has maintained its own entry restrictions, approving only diplomats, high-skilled workers and investors from overseas, under strict health protocols.

A reciprocal leisure travel agreement between the two countries would not be out of the question though.

News of this Da Nang route may not have any significant meaning, in the same way that SilkAir’s curious decision to start twice weekly services to the Maldives in December doesn’t necessarily point to any relaxation of travel restrictions, though again it seems an odd decision for a few reasons.

  • Vietnam does not currently allow international passengers to enter, meaning services operated by Singapore Airlines and Jetstar, plus these new flights by SilkAir, must only carry cargo to Vietnam, carrying passengers on the return leg. It’s hard to see the commercial viability for limited one-way passenger traffic, using an aircraft ill-suited to cargo operations.
  • Domestic flights in Vietnam remain widely available. There are currently nearly 20 flights per day from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh and at least another dozen per day to Hanoi. This allows ample opportunity for those who wish (or need) to travel from Da Nang to Singapore to do so by connecting onto existing SIA or Jetstar services.
  • Though Vietnamese residents can visit Singapore without restriction, it’s nearly impossible for them to get back and even if they can, 14-day quarantine is currently enforced on their return.

None of these factors prevent SilkAir from operating Da Nang flights if it wants to, but without a two-way travel agreement they are unlikely to make any money doing so!

Other SilkAir routes

These Da Nang flights will join the current SilkAir network totalling eight other cities in Asia during December 2020.

(click to enlarge)
  Upcoming
  Upcoming
SilkAir Routes
(Oct – Dec 2020)
City Month Acft
Oct Nov Dec
Cebu 2/wk 2/wk 2/wk 738
Chongqing 1/wk 1/wk 1/wk 738
Da Nang 1/wk 738
Kathmandu 1/wk
1/wk 1/wk 738
Kuala Lumpur 2/wk 2/wk 4/wk 738
Malé 2/wk 738
Medan 1/wk 2/wk 2/wk 738
Penang 2/wk
2/wk 2/wk 738
Phnom Penh 2/wk
3/wk 3/wk 738
Total 11/wk
13/wk 18/wk  

SilkAir’s usual schedule of services was of course decimated in early 2020, as shown in the following graph, with an extremely gradual recovery over the last eight months.

(click to enlarge)

The airline’s monthly passenger flight total has increased above 100 in October for the first time since schedules were almost completely axed earlier this year, and will grow to 144 by the end of 2020, though this remains low at around 4% of pre-COVID levels.

The first Singapore Airlines (SilkAir) 737-800 has flown

In other SilkAir-SIA news, as part of the progressing merger between the two carriers we previously reported that the first aircraft had been repainted in full Singapore Airlines livery.

On Wednesday 9V-MGA, the Boeing 737-800 in question, took to the skies for the first time in its new clothes, with the following snap courtesy of BK Tan.

9V-MGA taking a test flight at Changi on 28th October 2020. (Photo: BK Tan)

The 14th SilkAir Boeing 737 MAX 8 (9V-MBN) was also painted in Singapore Airlines livery from the outset of production, though like all the MAX aircraft worldwide it remains in storage awaiting recertification.


© DeltaLAX / Airliners.net

 

According to the gurus at SQTalk, two further Boeing 737-800 aircraft (9V-MGK and -MGN) have already been repainted in preparation for handover.

Unfortunately the bad news is that these aircraft will not receive the promised flat-bed seats in Business Class when they move across to Singapore Airlines, instead retaining their current recliner seating.

Summary

Like with the upcoming Malé route, it seems strange for SilkAir to be restarting Da Nang flights before leisure travel approval is in place, especially since any limited passenger traffic is purely one-way and there are ready means for people to fly from Da Nang to other major airports in Vietnam in order to leave the country.

That said, it’s certainly too early to get excited about an Air Travel Bubble (ATB) or similar arrangement between Singapore and Vietnam, and to conclude so as a result of this schedule addition would probably be a 2+2=5 assumption!

That doesn’t stop us keeping our fingers crossed!

Vietnam was our most recent leisure trip from Singapore back in February 2020, just as COVID-19 was appearing on the radar, and it would be great to go back soon.

Our last ‘big’ holiday was in Hoi An, a short drive from Da Nang along a beautiful stretch of coastline with many beach resorts. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The Hong Kong ATB announcement in mid-October came almost out of nowhere, so there are likely advanced discussions ongoing with several countries regarding similar arrangements. With its very low case numbers, Vietnam looks like an obvious choice and is hopefully a matter of “when, not if”.

Meanwhile SilkAir is preparing its first few Boeing 737-800s for transfer into Singapore Airlines, with three aircraft already sporting the mainline colour scheme.

There’s still no word yet on whether SIA will initially take over SilkAir operation on existing MI routes, or deploy the aircraft on lower demand services which haven’t previously seen SilkAir flights, since they will have the flexibility to do either once the aircraft join the SIA Air Operator Certificate in late 2020 / early 2021.

(Cover Photo: Sudpoth Sirirattanasakul / Shutterstock)

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