When it was announced that Singapore Airlines’s regional carrier SilkAir would be merged into Singapore Airlines itself, I was bullish on the move. Sure, I was concerned that Singapore was pushing SilkAir too far upmarket to prepare for the merger, but consolidating under a single premium brand made sense. As Paul Harvey would say, now we know the rest of the story. The problem with SilkAir going upmarket is that now it can’t effectively serve a slew of routes. Those are now going to move over to Singapore-owned low-cost carrier Scoot. Though we don’t have full details of how this will be implemented, it sounds a lot like United’s failed Ted experiment.
SilkAir has been Singapore’s regional airline for nearly 30 years now. And when I say “regional,” I don’t mean it in the sense of how US carriers view a regional carrier. SilkAir is more like what would happen if a US-based airline decided only to fly long-haul international routes, moving its domestic/short-haul airline under a wholly-owned partner. For Singapore, this distinction worked for some time, but it’s costly to run two entirely separate airlines. It’s also harder from a marketing perspective.
The merger between the two airlines will simplify things, but apparently Singapore had concerns about product consistency that had to be fixed for the merger to occur. To solve this, the airline says that the SilkAir 737 fleet will lose its domestic-style First Class and get flat beds instead. When this was announced, I said:
…I tend to think the airline is making a mistake by converting its whole fleet to have flat beds. I would think shorter flights would be better off with a more dense configuration similar to what SilkAir offers today.
Would Singapore really fly these flat beds on shorter regional routes where there couldn’t be that much demand? Apparently not. As ch-aviation reports, Singapore is reallocating a bunch of flights from SilkAir to its low-cost arm Scoot between April 2019 and July 2020. The routes are from Singapore to:
- Changsha (China)
- Fuzhou (China)
- Kunming (China)
- Wuhan (China)
- Coimbatore (India)
- Thiruvananthapuram (India)
- Vishakhapatnam (India)
- Balikpapan (Indonesia)
- Lombok (Indonesia)
- Makassar (Indonesia)
- Manado (Indonesia)
- Semarang (Indonesia)
- Yogyakarta (Indonesia)
- Luang Prabang (Laos)
- Vientiane (Laos)
- Kota Kinabulu (Malaysia)
- Chiang Mai (Thailand)
That is a whole lot of routes, and these aren’t short. In fact, only 4 of them are under 1,000 miles.
The longest route, to Wuhan, is about 70 miles longer than a flight from Washington/Dulles to Las Vegas. Why do I pick that route as a comparison point? Because that’s a route that United turned over to its own low-cost carrier Ted last decade. And it was a mistake.
The problem here is that Singapore Airlines is a hub-and-spoke airline that runs most flights through its Singapore hub. It’s that connecting hub that causes the problem here, just as it for United with its Ted effort. With United, people were pretty mad when they bought a First Class ticket from Europe to Vegas and found themselves stuck in coach on Ted for the last 4+ hours from Dulles.
Singapore is going to run into the same problem here, assuming that Scoot isn’t creating a new Scoot premium product that would go against the whole point of the airline so far. (Singapore could not tell me either way what would happen.) What if you needed to fly from Sydney to Wuhan in Business Class? Those last 4+ hours will be in coach on a low-cost carrier. It’s a choppy experience that isn’t going to satisfy the highest paying customers.
The alternative is that Scoot decides to operate these flights with two-cabin aircraft and offers a different type of product than what is has put out so far. That sounds ridiculous, but then again, there’s a lot about this plan that sounds that way.
While Scoot will turn over Chennai and and Bangalore flying to Singapore Airlines along with Shenzhen and Kochi to SilkAir, this is still going to be significant growth. How will Scoot manage? Well, it’s taking a bunch of planes from SilkAir.
In what is a rather odd move, Scoot will take 14 of SilkAir’s 17 737-800 aircraft. Remember, Scoot is an all Airbus operation on the narrowbody side. (It flies 787s on long-haul.) So this will add a new, small fleet type for no good reason. What’s even more strange about all this is that SilkAir was an all-Airbus operator until a few years ago when it decided to switch to the 737. SilkAir still flies Airbuses today as it phases the fleet out. You’d think Scoot would be better off taking those, but no. It’ll have a dual narrowbody fleet now instead.
No matter what happens with the premium cabin, Scoot is becoming a more complex airline by the day while SilkAir shrinks in the short term (it has a lot of 737 MAXs on order which will help it grow).
The end result here is that a lot of Singapore/SilkAir travelers are most likely about to get a significant downgrade in service. Like Ted, this seems like a bad idea.