Singapore Airlines faces tough competition, looks to expand

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SINGAPOREAN FLAGSHIP carrier, Singapore Airlines (SIA), is celebrating its 70th anniversary with “more innovations and enhancements” in order to grow further in an increasingly competitive industry, according to a company executive.

“We are aware that for the past 70 years has been a very successful run but past success doesn’t mean much looking forward — we have to move forward,” Bala Kunduvara, SIA Philippines GM, told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the carrier’s anniversary event on June 7 at the Manila House Private Club in Bonifacio Global City.

This year isn’t starting out to be a banner year as SIA posted a $100-million loss in the first quarter, which it attributed to fierce competition from Chinese airlines and rivals in the Gulf area. The loss was the airline’s first in five years.

“We have just announced we are embarking on a company-wide transformation process. Some of it will be internal; some of it will be customer-facing. Customers should expect more innovations and enhancements,” Mr. Kunduvara said.

The “company-wide transformation,” announced in May, has given rise to fears that job cuts are looming. Cathay Pacific — another airline challenged by global competition — announced 600 job cuts.

SIA in February placed an order for 39 Boeing wide-body planes (20 777-9s and 19 787-10s) for additional passenger growth and fleet modernization for the next decade.

Despite challenges, Mr. Kunduvara said the Philippines (and the Southeast Asian region) has been growing and the company is looking to expand, probably using other carriers under the SIA umbrella. SIA also operates SilkAir (a short-haul full-service), Scoot (a long-haul budget service) and Tigerair (a budget service).

“We’re looking at different growth areas in the Philippines as well but growth is likely to come from the other carriers, for example SilkAir and Scoot,” he said.

While he has declined to reveal more details for the country and confirmed that no additional flights are forthcoming just yet, he did say that the opening of the new terminal in Mactan International Airport in Cebu — which is expected to be completed next year — will open up the market. “We hope Cebu will develop a market in such a way we can deploy wide-body [aircraft],” he said. The Cebu airport is currently being served by SilkAir. — Zsarlene B. Chua