Darwin has welcomed Australia’s first scheduled Boeing 737 MAX passenger flight, with Silkair’s MI801 touching down in the Northern Territory capital a few minutes before 1500 local time on Sunday.
Silkair’s inaugural MAX service, operated by 9V-MBC, covered the 1,804nm journey between Singapore and Darwin in a little over four and a half hours.
The flight received an Airservices Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) monitor cross on its way to the terminal, where there were some celebrations and an official welcoming ceremony.
The aircraft was on the ground for about 80 minutes before taking off as the reciprocal MI802 back to Singapore.
Silkair is a wholly-owned unit of Singapore Airlines (SIA) and is described within the airline group – which also includes low-cost carrier Scoot – as the “regional wing of Singapore Airlines”.
The airline will celebrate six years of operating to Australia in March 2018, having started services to Darwin on March 26 2012.
In May 2015, SilkAir added Cairns to its network. The North Queensland city was Australia’s second destination to receive scheduled 737 MAX passenger service on Monday, when Silkair flight MI811, also operated by 9V-MBC, touched down a little after 1000 local time after a near seven-hour journey from Singapore.
“We are thrilled to be welcoming the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 to the SilkAir family,” Silkair chief executive Foo Chai Woo said in a statement on Monday.
“The new MAX 8 enables us to offer customers access to new and exciting destinations and paves the way for a new phase of growth. With the aircraft entering into service, we look forward to inviting customers on-board to enjoy the quality experience that the MAX 8 offers.”
Silkair took delivery of its first 737 MAX 8 in October 2017. The aircraft is configured with 12 business and 144 economy seats for a total of 156 and features an updated business class cabin with a seat pitch of 49 inches (up from 39 inches on the 737-800) and USB and plug-in charging ports.
Meanwhile, economy seats have a seat-back tablet or mobile phone holder, as well as USB charging ports, to allow passengers to more comfortably view the in-flight entertainment available to be streamed to personal electronic devices.
The switch to the 737 MAX 8 represents a slight capacity decrease in economy seats to Cairns and Darwin, given the Boeing 737-800s used previously on the two routes have 150 seats in economy. However, business class capacity is unchanged at 12 seats, albeit with an improved on-board product.
Cairns and Darwin are among five Silkair destinations served with the next-generation aircraft so far alongside Bengaluru, Hiroshima and Hyderabad.
The airline is transitioning to an all-Boeing fleet, with Airbus A319s and A320s being retired in favour of 737-800s and 737 MAX equipment.
SilkAir’s Cairns and Darwin services, like Singapore Airlines’ flights to Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, are supported by the alliance with Virgin Australia, which places its VA airline code on all Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flights out of Australia, as well as throughout the pair’s Asian and European services.
Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) figures show SilkAir carried 44,326 inbound passengers to Australia for the 12 months to June 30 2017, up 17 per cent from the prior corresponding period. The 2016/17 average load factor for its flights to Cairns and Darwin was 69.6 per cent.
The number of outbound passengers jumped 51 per cent to 63,628, with an average load factor for its outbound services 76.7 per cent in 2016/17.
And in an indication of the airline’s expansion in this market, SilkAir operated 394 flights in 2016/17, a 24 per cent increase from 317 flights the prior year.