Singapore Airlines (SIA) is betting big on India with an array of products, new planes and more flights. The airline has partnered with Tatas in the full-service carrier, Vistara, which is preparing to fly international routes.
It is also looking to tap the number of Indians who fly to the US from its home base, the Changi Airport. India is an important market, says David Lim, general manager-India.
Edited excerpts from the interview: Where does India fit in the SIA’s global strategy?
India is an important market, which is reflected by the presence of all our portfolio carriers (SilkAir and Scoot) in the country. The SIA group carriers offer over 140 weekly connections to Singapore from 14 Indian cities.
SIA also has a 49 per cent investment in Vistara; a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines. To suit the market demands, we have been increasing capacities as well as bringing in the latest cabin products to India.
In July 2017, we introduced A350 service on the Mumbai-Singapore route. We introduced new cabin products on our A380s in November 2017, which will progressively be fitted on our A380 aircrafts too. The retrofitting is expected to be completed in 2020.
What are Singapore Airlines’ plans for the Indian market over the next two years?
In the last one year, we have increased capacity in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. We are currently operating four and 17 weekly flights, respectively to the two cities. In October 2018, we will be operating the fifth weekly flight from Ahmedabad.
Singapore Airlines is the world’s first airline to take delivery of Boeing’s newest Dreamliner variant and we will also be the “first to fly” the Boeing 787-10 to New Delhi. This new aircraft will replace the existing Boeing 777-200, which means additional capacity injection into Delhi. The 787-10s are configured with 337 seats in two classes, featuring 36 Business Class seats and 301 Economy Class seats.
Indians also fly Singapore Airlines to Changi airport and then take connecting flights, especially to the US. We have several new flights on the anvil.
Singapore Airlines will restart its non-stop service to New York (Newark) on October 18, putting the Airbus A350-900 Ultra Long Range aircraft (A350 ULR) into service, the world’s longest commercial flight with a travel time of approximately 18 hours 45 minutes from Singapore.
Additionally, we will launch non-stop flights between Singapore and Los Angeles, on the new Airbus A350-900ULR (ultra-long-range) aircraft this November.
We will also step up existing daily non-stop Singapore-San Francisco services to 10 times per week. We currently operate 40 flights per week to the US cities of Houston, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Together, with the earlier announced non-stop Singapore-New York services, the total frequency to the US will increase to 53 per week by December 2018.
The SIA group carriers (Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot) combined together offer over 140 weekly services from India to Singapore. The idea is to offer seamless connectivity.
What are the technological advancements or the new aircraft the airline SIA has introduced on the Indian sector?
We are the largest customer for 787-10, with firm orders for 49 of the type. The aircraft is fitted with the next generation of cabin products that have redefined air travel for flights up to eight hours.
The 787-10s are configured with 337 seats in two classes, namely Business Class seats and Economy Class. SIA invested US$350 million in the introduction of the new regional cabin products that feature fully-flat beds and direct aisle access for all Business Class customers, ergonomically-designed contour backrests with six-way adjustable headrests in Economy Class, and personalised in-flight entertainment (IFE) experience for all customers.
Last year, we also introduced the A350 services to India, which has features such as higher ceilings, larger windows, an extra wide body and lighting designed to reduce jetlag.
You recently ramped up facilities for Business Class and First Class travellers …
Our modern fleet with state-of-the-art technology and services is an example of us as industry pioneers. The Business Class on Boeing 787-10, manufactured by Stelia Aerospace, has seats arranged in a forward-facing staggered configuration to provide every customer direct aisle access. Each seat measures up to 26” in width with retractable armrests that can be raised and lowered and an ability to recline directly into a 76” fully-flat bed.
Designed by JPA Design of the UK, the interiors of the Business Class cabin in Airbus A350 showcases an organic colour scheme featuring a selection of soothing leather and fabrics, in addition to lightweight carbon composite materials. The seats are upholstered by Poltrona Frau.
A larger back shell on every seat creates a cocoon-like feel for more privacy while the centre divider can be fully lowered to form double beds, making the two centre seats an ideal choice for families travelling together.
In the First class, our emphasis is on a combination of innovation and style. We have just eight stately seats in the B777-300ER to provide customers with enhanced privacy. The seat converts into one of the largest full-flat bed in the sky. Our service begins on the ground and it includes complimentary one night stay in a hotel such as Raffles.
To enhance the travel experience, we have just appointed architectural and interior design firm ONG&ONG to develop a new design concept for all of the airline’s airport lounges worldwide. The SilverKris Lounge at Sydney Airport will be the first to be fitted out with the new design concept and is scheduled to open before the end of this year.
Inflight and in-lounge dining are areas for emphasis for Singapore Airlines. What is the sort of dining experience you hope to offer by appointing internationally acclaimed chefs as part of the International Culinary Panel?
First Class customers experience dining on board is similar to that of dining in an exclusive restaurant. It features a menu created by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel. Every meal is complemented by a selection of fine wines and champagnes specially put together by a panel of wine experts.
Singapore Airlines’ International Culinary Panel (ICP) has award-winning chefs from the culinary capitals of the world, such as Georges Blanc of France, Sanjeev Kapoor of India, Matthew James Moran of Australia, Yoshihiro Murata of Japan, Alfred Portale and Suzanne Goin of the United States and Zhu Jun of China.
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor curates the menus for our premium cabins on the Indian sector. He has designed the Ruchi Thali for our Business Class passengers, which comprises of a three-course meal designed to replicate a plethora of taste, textures and aromas of Indian cuisine — from tenderly braised meats to gently simmered vegetables; an exquisite selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes prepared delicately with the perfect balance of flavours. The Shahi Thali showcases the best dishes in both northern and southern Indian cuisine.
As part of our World Gourmet Cuisine selection, customers have the option of pre-selecting a main course dish of their choice from the Airline’s ‘Book the Cook’ service, available on all flights departing from Singapore and selected flights arriving into Singapore.
Sustainability is a talking point in the world of luxury. How does SIA stack up on the sustainability front?
Under a new initiative “From Farm to Plane”, we are promoting environmental sustainability and support local farmers’ communities. We intend to use more sustainable and meatless ingredients, as well as local produce, in our in-flight meals.
How has the investment in Vistara helped SIA to expand its footprint in India?
Singapore Airlines and Vistara, currently work on codeshare and mileage accrual programmes. As Vistara grows within the Indian market, we will explore further synergies with them.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.
Disclosure: Vistara and Boeing are two of the four launch partners of CNBCTV18.com.