Air­line splurges to re­de­fine lux­ury with re­vamped A380 cabins

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - International Business -

SIN­GA­PORE Air­lines Ltd, the first car­rier to put a dou­ble bed in its cabins, is spend­ing US$850 mil­lion (S$1.15 bil­lion) to re­fit all its Air­bus SE A380 jets to take air­borne lux­ury up an­other notch.

The air­line on Thurs­day un­veiled its first ma­jor over­haul across cabin classes of its Air­bus SE A380s since 2007, when it be­came the first car­rier to fly the dou­ble-decker air­craft. For the most pre­mier of its cus­tomers, Sin­ga­pore Air has cut the num­ber of Suites to six from 12, al­low­ing ad­di­tional space and frills such as a sep­a­rate, fully ad­justable seat with leather up­hol­stery by Italy’s Poltrona Frau, as well as dou­ble bath­rooms, one of which has a sit-down van­ity counter.

The changes will be first in­tro­duced in five new su­per-jumbo planes it will re­ceive pro­gres­sively from this year, start­ing with the Sin­ga­poresyd­ney flight on Dec 18. Sin­ga­pore Air also will retro­fit its older A380s with the new prod­ucts start­ing late 2018, with a tar­get for com­ple­tion in 2020.

Air­lines have been try­ing to outdo each other when it comes to pam­per­ing the up­scale business trav­eller. The new Sin­ga­pore Air suites will have a sep­a­rate bed, with­out the need for con­ver­sion from a sit­ting po­si­tion, along­side the ad­justable leather seat. Eti­had Air­ways PJSC pro­vides in-flight show­ers for first­class pas­sen­gers on its A380s, and its Res­i­dence suites fea­ture a lie-flat bed and a liv­ing area with a 32-inch television and pri­vate but­ler.

Sin­ga­pore Air Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Goh Choon Phong is fend­ing off in­ten­si­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion, par­tic­u­larly from Mid­dle Eastern car­ri­ers like Emi­rates, which in Au­gust in­tro­duced a re­vamped lounge in­spired by pri­vate yacht cabins on its own A380s. The Sin­ga­pore car­rier’s cabin re­vamps — four years in the mak­ing — comes amid a re­view of its en­tire business as the money earned from fly­ing pas­sen­gers per kilo­me­tre hov­ers at roughly eight-year lows.

“There was a time when su­pe­rior prod­uct of­fer­ing was one of the stronger choice cri­te­ria for a per­son buy­ing a seat, but un­for­tu­nately ev­ery­one has be­come pretty good,” said Mohshin Aziz, an avi­a­tion-fo­cused an­a­lyst at May­bank-in­vest­ment Bank Bhd. in Kuala Lumpur. “To put so much em­pha­sis on it is prob­a­bly an out­dated strat­egy.”

Rather than spend­ing money to up­grade cabins, Sin­ga­pore Air should be fo­cus­ing more on bet­ter sched­ul­ing and ser­vices to lift profit, said Mohshin, who rates the stock a hold.

The air­line cur­rently has 18 A380s, four of which will be re­turned to lessors pro­gres­sively in 2018.

Sin­ga­pore Air — the only Asian car­rier to have flown the lux­u­ri­ous Con­corde more than three decades ago — posted a net loss in the quar­ter ended March. It re­bounded to a profit of S$235.1 mil­lion (US$173 mil­lion) in the three months ended June.

Pre­dict­ing an­other chal­leng­ing year, Sin­ga­pore Air set up a ded­i­cated of­fice to con­duct a wide-rang­ing re­view to trans­form the com­pany and bet­ter po­si­tion it­self for sus­tain­able growth, it said in May. Mr Goh said in June that jobs could be elim­i­nated, and two months later of­fered vol­un­tary un­paid leave to cut costs.

It’s not the only one feel­ing the heat. Cathay Pa­cific Air­ways Ltd. is also car­ry­ing out its big­gest trans­for­ma­tion plan in two decades, and said in May that it will cut 600 jobs at its Hong Kong head of­fice as part of ef­forts to re­vive its for­tunes.

Be­sides the A380 re­vamp, Emi­rates is pre­par­ing to un­veil the new first class cabin on its Boe­ing 777-300ER planes that will have six suites, two fewer than be­fore, as well as new fea­tures for business and econ­omy seats, dur­ing the Dubai air­show this month.

While Sin­ga­pore Air had been an in­dus­try trend­set­ter, such as be­ing the first to pro­vide free al­co­hol to econ­omy-class pas­sen­gers and head­sets for in-flight en­ter­tain­ment in the 1970s, it has been less so in re­cent years. The air­line’s last ma­jor of­fer­ing was in May 2015, when it in­tro­duced a pre­mium econ­omy class and played catch up to Qan­tas Air­ways Ltd. and Cathay.

“There is an ur­gent need for SIA to move ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion again,” said Cor­rine Png, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Cru­cial Per­spec­tive Pte. in Sin­ga­pore.

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