Canberra will have daily flights to Singapore but lose nonstop services to Wellington from the start of May as Singapore Airlines (SIA) adjusts its schedule to the national capital.
The changes come 16 months after SIA commenced flying a Singapore-Canberra-Wellington rotation four times a week in September 2016, which it termed the “Capital Express” route, using two-class Boeing 777-200s with 266 seats.
From May 1, SIA will instead serve Canberra daily with four-class, 264-seat Boeing 777-300ERs as part of a Singapore-Sydney-Canberra-Singapore rotation and end its Canberrra-Wellington-Canberra tag flights.
It means those travelling between Singapore and Canberra will have a technical stop in Sydney on the inbound leg, rather a nonstop flight currently.
There are also schedule changes for those travelling to Canberra on SIA, with the inbound service on the new flight departing Singapore mid-morning and getting into Sydney at 2010 for a 70-minute technical stop before continuing onto Canberra for a 2220 arrival.
The outbound leg to Singapore remains an overnight flight.
While SIA will no longer operate between Canberra and Wellington, it will maintain service to the New Zealand capital via Melbourne instead, with a four times weekly Singapore-Melbourne-Wellington rotation with 777-200s.
The new service is an overnight flight from Singapore to Melbourne, touching down at Tullamarine at 0510. The aircraft will be on the ground for one hour and 50 minutes before taking off for Wellington, arriving at 1220.
The return service takes off from Wellington at 1345 and gets into Singapore, after an 80-minute technical stop in Melbourne, at 2245.
SIA regional vice president for Southwest Pacific Philip Goh said de-linking Canberra with Wellington would allow both cities to “chart their own growth path”.
“We are very excited by this development,” Goh told Australian Aviation in an interview shortly after making the official announcement of the schedule changes in Canberra on Wednesday.
“Our people will be working their socks off to make it happen and to make it work very well for everybody.”
Goh said data for the past 16 months of the “Capital Express” highlighted the different passenger flows for Canberra and Wellington.
For Canberra, most passengers were headed to South East Asia and North Asia. Meanwhile, the bulk of Wellington passengers were going to Europe and West Asia.
“By operating at different time windows and allowing those connections that over the course the last 16 months that we have observed I think will really allow both services to grow,” Goh said.
SIA will join Air New Zealand and Qantas offering nonstop service between Melbourne and Wellington.
Goh said the schedule changes were also positive for Sydney, given the 2120 departure offered a new year-round late-night option that arrived into Singapore in the early morning. Presently, SIA’s last flight out of Sydney departs a little after 1900, touching down in Singapore just after midnight.
And while some might be disappointed to lose a nonstop flight inbound to Canberra from Singapore, Goh said SIA’s one-stop option via Sydney was still a better proposition than other alternatives in the market.
“The alternative is that they fly into Sydney internationally and then they change to the domestic terminal and fly out from the domestic terminal to Canberra and I don’t think that is a very good experience for most people,” Goh said.
“So that little technical stop shouldn’t pose so much of a difficulty for people who understand how it works, it should be a good alternative to the other option.
“Really, it is putting two very good things into one package, which is offering a daily service for the Canberra market as well as introducing for the first time a late-night departure out of Sydney which will serve the business market really well.”
Goh said SIA was working through what the network changes would mean to the existing codeshare arrangements with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia on the Singapore-Canberra-Wellington service.
Currently, Air New Zealand and SIA have a revenue-sharing arrangement on three routes – Singapore-Auckland (which both operate), Singapore-Christchurch and Singapore-Wellington (both operated by SIA). The Singapore-Canberra and Canberra-Wellington legs are not part of the alliance arrangements.
Meanwhile, Virgin Australia had its VA airline code on both the Singapore-Canberra and Canberra-Wellington sectors.
The chief analyst at aviation thinktank CAPA – Centre for Aviation Brendan Sobie said he believed Canberra-Singapore traffic has been strong enough to support a dedicated nonstop flight in both directions, with Canberra-Singapore traffic much stronger than Canberra-Wellington traffic.
“With the one-stop product in one direction, Singapore Airlines will risk losing some of its Canberra passengers and the momentum it has successfully built up the last 16 months in the Canberra-Singapore market,” Sobie told Australian Aviation on Wednesday.
Sobie said SIA had the opportunity to make Singapore-Canberra its first 787-10 route, pointing out the aircraft is the right size for the Canberra market and was expected to enter service in April, just before the network changes were due to occur.
“This would have sent the right message to the Canberra market. The triangle routing on the larger 777-300ER sends a mixed message and is an indication of SIA, known for its risk adversity, once again being too conservative.”
Canberra Airport said it a statement it was disappointed to lose nonstop flights to Wellington.
However, it said the “foundations for a trans-Tasman service between the two capital cities has now been laid”.
Wellington Airport said the new routing to Singapore via Melbourne would “add further opportunity for travellers to access more seats to Singapore and beyond as a result of the change”.
Sobie said dropping Canberra-Wellington was “understandable” given local traffic was insufficient to justify maintaining the service.
“Serving Wellington via Melbourne enables SIA to tap into much higher local demand but does create a potentially sticky situation with Air New Zealand, which also operates this route,” Sobie said.
“Eventually SIA will need to figure out whether Wellington is worth maintaining as it could easily rely on its partners to operate the Australia to Wellington connection, providing similar overall transit times.”
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