SilkAir takes route less travelled

Though budget airlines have gained popularity with local travellers in the past decade, grande dame SilkAir is not giving up the fight, even as it turns 25 this year.

Travellers can expect new planes featuring Wi-Fi streaming of movies and TV shows. They can also visit new cities as the regional wing of Singapore Airlines focuses on its bread-and-butter business: servicing secondary cities.

Speaking to MyPaper on Saturday at a 25-hour flight-simulator event commemorating the airline's anniversary, SilkAir chief executive Leslie Thng acknowledged that low-cost carriers remain the firm's direct competitors for certain key routes.

But 54 new Boeing 737s coming in by 2020, starting with eight this year, "will support our network expansion plans… (and) will enable us to efficiently serve more destinations, fly longer routes and increase capacity on existing routes", said Mr Thng.

The Boeing 737 aircraft can take up to 162 passengers, an 8 per cent increase in seat capacity compared to SilkAir's current A320s. Not only do they have larger overhead storage bins and LED lighting, but the planes also offer free direct Wi-Fi streaming of flight entertainment to personal wireless devices.

The full-service airline operates more than 300 weekly flights to 45 Asia-Pacific destinations, most of which are secondary cities.

More are on the cards. In recent months, SilkAir added three secondary cities in Indonesia: Semarang, Makassar and Yogyakarta. It will fly to Kalibo in the Philippines from May 27, and Mandalay in Myanmar from June 10.

SilkAir generated $8 million in the second quarter of the latest financial year, compared to $19 million in the same period the previous year, representing a drop in revenue of about 60 per cent.

But Mr Thng attributed this to the carrier injecting a significant amount into the development of new routes to emerging destinations in the region.

"We are in for the long term," said Mr Thng. "We inject capacity... because we believe our key markets in the region - India, China and Indonesia - are experiencing relatively strong gross domestic product growth."

SilkAir is aiming to get the first-mover advantage in many emerging markets, but "with new services, time and resources are required".

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