January 20, 2016 – 11:57AM
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY REPORTER AT THE CANBERRA TIMES
Singapore Airlines is announcing on Wednesday international flights to and from Canberra. Photo: Karleen Minney
Canberrans will be able to fly directly to Singapore and Wellington from September, following an announcement on Wednesday by Singapore Airlines.
The announcement will make the airline the first carrier to fly directly to Canberra from overseas since previous attempts to establish international routes were abandoned.
An economy ticket between Canberra and Singapore will cost from $650 and between Canberra and Wellington will cost from $469. Business class fares will start from $3166 and $1450 respectively.
As reported by Fairfax Media last week, Singapore chief executive Goh Choon Phong made the announcement with Canberra Airport boss Stephen Byron and Chief Minister Andrew Barr on Wednesday.
The first flight will land in September, subject to regulatory approval, but tickets will go on sale from next week. The service will be known as the Capital Express route and will fly Boeing 777-200 aircraft.
The Canberra-Singapore leg will have the flight number SQ292 and the Wellington leg will be SQ291.
Canberra will effectively be a stop between Singapore and Wellington.
Flights from Singapore will arrive on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 8.35am and the depart for Wellington at 9.50am. In the other direction, flights from Wellington will arrive on the same days, arriving at 10.05pm and departing for Singapore at 11.30pm.
The airline is taking advantage of Canberra not having a curfew for flights. The red-eye flights in both directions will also make them convenient for business and government travellers.
The Boeing 777s will include 38 semi-flat business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration and 228 economy class seats in a 3-3-3 configuration.
Singapore Airlines is understood to have examined the prospect of flying to Canberra for the last three years, but it found the business case did not stack up without the addition of the Wellington sector. It chose to use a 777-200 rather than an A330 because the former offers more business class and fewer economy class seats on a route expected to attract a proportionally large amount of premium traffic.
Depending on the success of the route, Singapore Airlines could boost the frequency, either seasonally or permanently at a later date.
Singapore Airlines’s departure and arrival lounge will cost $25 million, paid for by Canberra Airport. It is part of a $32 million investment by the airport, which said it would offer more if other airlines followed and offered international flights, too.
The airport says it has a customs and arrivals area that is currently empty, and will spend the next six months setting them up at gate six, next to the Virgin lounge. Virgin and Singapore will be offering codeshare flights.
Virgin boss John Borghetti was in Canberra for the formal announcement and his airline hopes to bolster its position in the lucrative business and government travellers market through the codesharing agreement.
Virgin and Qantas compete vigorously in the Canberra market, with international travel to and from the nation’s capital until now typically routed through Sydney and Melbourne. Virgin has been looking to pick up a bigger share of corporate and government travel as part of its move upmarket.
Mr Phong said the service reflected the close ties between the three countries.
“We are excited about the prospects for our new ‘Capital Express’ route, which we are confident will appeal to leisure, government and corporate travellers,” he said.
“We are especially pleased to be bringing more convenient travel options to customers with Canberra’s first regularly scheduled international flights.”
Canberra Airport chairman Terry Snow said the announcement justified the airport’s long-term vision.
“From day one, my family set about creating a world-class gateway for the national capital,” he said.
Direct international flights have been a long-held ambition for the ACT government and will boost the local tourism sector and Canberra Airport business, which warned last month falling arrival numbers were bad for the economy.
Until now, carriers have not taken up the chance to benefit from the ACT government’s $1.1 million co-operative airline stimulus fund, designed to pay for international and domestic marketing campaigns to attract leisure passengers to Canberra.
Despite substantial investment in the airport terminal and tourism campaigns in recent years, and Canberra residents being the highest paid in Australia, travellers have typically had to fly via Sydney or Melbourne.
Mr Barr said the flights were a game changer that would connect the Canberra region to the world, boosting the city’s international profile and economy.
“The start of direct international flights will create significant positive economic and social impacts for our city and the region in terms of trade, investment, higher education and tourism. Independent economic modelling shows these new flights will be worth tens of millions of dollars to our economy and create hundreds of jobs,” he said.
Aviation experts say Singapore Airlines plans to begin flying to and from Canberra could lead more carriers to offer international flights, too. They also say Singapore Airlines would be the most “logical” airline to step into the Canberra market.
The government and Canberra Airport have pitched leisure travel airfares as an opportunity for carriers to match expected business class ticket sales associated with the federal government, Canberra region businesses and Parliament.
Research in 2014 showed daily services from Singapore or New Zealand could generate $139 million in annual benefits for the Canberra region and more than 1000 jobs. Economic analysis of Canberra’s tourism catchment had been given to airlines to show off the potential of the 900,000 people who live in the city and towns within two hours drive.
Direct international flights have been the centre of the governments trade delegations to Asian capitals, including Singapore. Mr Barr has previously lobbied other carriers including Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand to consider Canberra.
Aviation industry expert Hans Mitterlechner said last week that if one airline were to break the ice, others might be keen to test the waters in Canberra. Shortlived flights to Fiji have previously departed from Canberra.
“There’s a ‘me-too’ effect in aviation,” Mr Mitterlechner said. “If someone does it and the service is maintained for some time then the assumption would be for the others that this airline makes money. If that’s the case, it’s easy to prove the business case to a second and third airline to do this,” he said.
Last month Mr Byron said falling passenger numbers each year since the airport’s new terminal opened was bad for the ACT economy.
In 2011 annual passenger arrivals totalled 3.17 million, falling to 2.80 million by 2014. In the same period passenger numbers at other Australian airports have grown at about 4 per cent annually.
With the same growth, Canberra would have more than 4 million arrivals for the year 2015.
with Jamie Freed
Source : Canberra Times