Singapore-Malaysia air route soaring

Travel News June 25th, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — Despite a grim outlook for the global aviation industry, airlines plying the Singapore-Malaysia route remain upbeat about their prospects.

While carriers around the world are suffering, the Singapore-Malaysia sector is enjoying a boom, with several airlines set to expand and increase flight frequencies from next month.

Air services between Malaysia and Singapore have hugely increased this year, and many more flights are due to be launched from Singapore to various towns in Malaysia.

You would forgive AirAsia — the airline running the most number of flights between the two countries — if it should start to feel nervous as yet another player, Malaysia Airlines subsidiary Firefly, enters the market next month.

The newcomer will be the seventh carrier to fly the much-coveted Singapore-Malaysia sector.

But AirAsia chief executive Datuk Tony Fernandes said he was confident about the airline’s staying power.

“I am not concerned about Firefly. It is not an arrogant statement,” he told The Straits Times in an interview.

He explained that both airlines are different and reach out to different target markets.

Fernandes said he believes that Firefly, which operates smaller turboprop aircraft and flies from Subang — nearer to the city centre than Sepang, site of Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost carrier terminal — is unlikely to offer airfares lower than AirAsia’s.

“We’re also different from other airlines (like Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines),” he added.

As AirAsia is a budget airline, he said, a passenger has to pay for meals, entertainment and even checking in a suitcase.

And those who have flown its long-haul carrier AirAsia X to Britain or Australia will know that the seats do not recline.

But these quirks do not seem to deter many passengers. Fernandes said passenger numbers have gone up and that plane loads average out at around 82 per cent.

Despite the industry’s glum fortunes regionally, AirAsia recorded net profits of RM203.2 million for the first quarter, compared with RM161.3 million a year earlier.

The opening up of the Singapore-Malaysia sector has been a boost. Fernandes estimates that 52 per cent of his passengers for the Singapore-KL route are Singaporeans.

And the Singapore-KL route is almost always nearly full, with an average load factor of more than 70 per cent, according to Kathleen Tan, AirAsia’s regional commercial head.

“The KL-Singapore route has been neglected for so long. It’s one of the few routes that has been in decline, so I think there’s enough for all of us,” said Fernandes, adding that the economic outlook for the route was “very good”.

He has never been wrong yet. He rose to fame after he turned around an ailing government- owned carrier into the success story that is now AirAsia.

Like AirAsia, its rival Tiger Airways also feels the sector is lucrative. It is keen to expand further later this year and is in discussions to launch new routes.

Its head of corporate communications Matt Hobbs said: “For the low-cost airlines, the market is certainly seeing growth and stable demand.”

Jetstar Asia also did not seem too worried about increased competition. Its Asia commercial head, Leslie Ng, said: “Our performance between Singapore and Malaysia remains strong.”

He cited a threefold increase in the number of passengers this month compared to the figure in the same period last year.

But analysts warned that a saturation point may soon be reached.

Azrul Azwar, a senior economist with Bank Islam, said that while the sector was still unaffected by the recession, he warned that it will reach a saturation point. “There could then be a price war, meaning more margin compression for carriers. But it will benefit passengers.”

Ng Sem Guan, aviation analyst with OSK Research, said: “The KL-Singapore route is a bit overcrowded. But new routes have the potential to grow, though it will take a while to mature.”

Both Air Asia and Air Asia X have removed administration fees on all flights.

Fernandes said yesterday this would lower fares and boost passenger volume.

The move would see a reduction of up to RM43 in ticket prices.

And amid the rosy outlook, at least for his airline, Fernandes promised one creature comfort for his long-haul passengers.

By December, seats in Air Asia X will be able to recline. — The Straits Times

Rajang river cruise set to wow tourists

Travel News June 15th, 2009

SIBU, June 15 – The Rajang, the country’s longest river, is set to become a tourist attraction when the Pandaw Luxury Cruise begins on June 30.

State urban development and tourism minister Datuk Micheal Manyin will officiate the ceremony.

A day after the launch, Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer Gracie Geikie said, a pioneer group of 60 tourists would begin an eight-day cruise along the river and its tributary, the Igan.

There will be three cruises each month and the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company which operates the service, reports it has a full schedule until March next year.

By then, Geikie said, more than 1,400 tourists from the USA, Australia and Europe would have visited the state’s central region comprising Sibu, Kapit, Sarikei and Mukah divisions. – Bernama

Firefly starts Singapore routes on July 1

Travel News June 5th, 2009

fireflySINGAPORE, June 4 — Firefly, the low cost carrier of Malaysia Airlines, will make its first entrance into Singapore skies come July 1, and soon after that will introduce four more new routes one after another.

On that date, Firefly will operate the Singapore-Subang flight and barely two weeks later on July 12 the carrier will introduce the Singapore-Ipoh route, followed by Singapore-Terengganu (July 14), Singapore-Kuantan (July 22) and Singapore-Melaka (Sept 1).

Firefly’s Managing Director Eddy Leong who announced the commencement of the flights at a reception for the local media and travel industry here tonight said the new routes from Singapore into Malaysia would further strengthen Firefly’s network focusing on commuters for business and leisure travellers.

Firefly’s maiden flight will depart Skypark Subang terminal, previously known as the Sultan Abdul Aziz International Airport at 7.50 am and arrive at the Singapore Budget Terminal in Changi 9.05 am.

The Singapore-Subang route will operate four times daily, the Singapore-Ipoh and Singapore-Kuantan four times weekly, and the Singapore-Kuala Terengganu and Singapore-Melaka three times weekly.

The airline is now offering an introductory promotional all-inclusive one way fare from S$31 (RM75), which is already available for booking for travel from now till October 24 this year, on its website www.fireflyz.com.my. – BERNAMA