Asian carrier, Singapore Airlines will become the first overseas carrier to introduce regularly scheduled international flights in Australia’s capital city, Canberra, when it launches a link from its Changi International Airport hub in Singapore. The flight, which will commence from September 21 this year will continue on to Wellington, New Zealand, introducing a scheduled connection between the Oceania capital cities.
Dubbed the ‘Capital Express’ route, Singapore Airlines will introduce a four times weekly schedule on Singapore – Canberra – Wellington, subject to final regulatory approval and will be operated with a 266-seat retrofitted Boeing 777-200 fitted with 38 Business Class and 228 Economy seats.
“This new service linking Singapore, Canberra and Wellington reflects the close ties between the three countries,” said Goh Choon Phong, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Airlines. “We are excited about the prospects for our new ‘Capital Express’ route, which we are confident will appeal to leisure, government and corporate travellers.”
“We are especially pleased to be bringing more convenient travel options to customers with Canberra’s first regularly scheduled international flights and the first non-stop links between the capitals of Australia and New Zealand,” he added.
The confirmation of the new route vindicates a long-term strategy developed by Canberra Airport to secure a regular long-haul service. Since it was purchased in 1998 the Capital Airport Group has invested more than $2 billion in facilities at the airport.
“I can think of no better partner than Singapore Airlines with its reputation for quality and excellence to be the first to set Canberra Airport on this historic course,” said Terry Snow, Chairman, Canberra Airport.
The new Canberra service will add to Singapore Airlines’ already extensive Australian network which includes flights between Singapore and Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, while subsidiary SilkAir also serves Cairns and Darwin. A wide-ranging partnership with Virgin Australia extends Singapore Airlines’ Australian and South Pacific network to another 53 codeshare destinations.
The first regular air service between New Zealand and Canberra will provide better access for politicians between the two countries, but significantly will also offer more efficient flight options from New Zealand’s North Island across Asia.
Singapore Airlines has been in talks with Wellington for around two years about this route, with the airport "gaining traction" about six months ago, Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said, when the airline appeared to become convinced by the business case to come to Wellington. According to Sanderson around 350 passengers a day the lower North Island want to fly to Asia each day.
The airline has a long-standing presence in New Zealand having flown to Auckland for 40 years and Christchurch for 30 years and now becomes the only non-Trans-Tasman airline to fly to three New Zealand destinations.
“New Zealand is a very important part of our global route network and is a popular destination for visitors from around the globe. New Zealanders are also renowned worldwide for their enthusiasm for travel,” said Mak Swee Wah, Executive Vice President Commercial, Singapore Airlines.
The new service comes as Wellington Airport attempts to lobby for central government funding towards extending its runway to allow direct long haul flights. Such an upgrade of infrastructure would enable direct non-stop connections to be offered to an increasing range of destinations including non-stop flights to destinations across Asia and North America by accommodating larger equipment such as the Airbus A350XWB and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The last major extension to Wellington’s runway occurred in 1972 and enabled direct jet services to be added to Australia transforming Wellington’s attractiveness for air travellers. Today, Wellington looks after more than 750,000 international passengers each year with 65 international return flights every week. This market will grow by at least 15 per cent this year, based on forecasts.
A proposed further extension by 355 metres in a southward direction will, according to a study by consultants Astral, allow widebody aircraft to operate long-haul routes from Wellington to most East Asian destinations (including Bangkok, Bali, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Manila, Shanghai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Osaka and Seoul) with full passenger loads. The US West Coast can also be reached by four aircraft types, and Beijing could be reached by the A350-900, under more favourable dry take-off runway conditions.
In terms of current options for Wellington long haul travel, the vast majority of traffic is routed via Auckland. This is especially true in the case of North America, where back-haul connections over Australia add considerable time and distance. The new Singapore Airlines flight will certainly help with connectivity into a number of markets.
A study by InterVISTAS shows that many of New Zealand’s key international markets could be accessed with a single Wellington long-haul route and network connectivity, and the aggregate levels of current demand that Wellington exhibits “would be of interest to potential airlines,” if the infrastructure was able to efficiently accommodate the right long-haul aircraft.
The consultancy shortlisted five markets that afforded the most potential: Singapore Airlines to Singapore; Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong; United Airlines to Los Angeles; Emirates to Dubai (via Melbourne); and Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur. In addition it said Thai Airways to Bangkok also has potential, as its results were comparable with Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur, while Chinese markets and its carriers hold potential for the future.
Its ‘Viability Assessment of Long-Haul Service at Wellington Airport’ says the current long-haul demand from the Wellington catchment area is estimated at 420 passengers per day each way (or 307,000 annual passengers). The largest markets are the United States and the United Kingdom with market sizes of 94 passengers per day each way (or 68,300 annual passengers) and 65 passengers per day each way (or 47,500 annual passengers), respectively, for travel to/from Wellington Airport.