How would you describe the growth story of Singapore Airlines in India ?
|G M Toh|
It has been 43 years of operations for Singapore Airlines in India. We started in 1970 in Chennai and 1971 in Mumbai, and it was quite some time before we went to Delhi and Kolkata. Mumbai was in fact at a time the regional headquarters for the airline – for west Asia and Africa. The second phase of growth came when SilkAir was introduced in India, in 1999, in Trivandrum, and subsequently we added Kochi and Hyderabad. The last phase of growth took place in 2003 and after, when liberlisation of air services happened in India. In the last 10 years the Indian market has changed very rapidly.
What has been your strategy for operating a mix of Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flights ?
Chennai and Bengaluru had one daily Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight, we found that it was too big for the market so we brought in SilkAir. So now you see a mix of SIA and SilkAir flights. In 2011 we started to replicate the model in Kolkata as well. In India we started bringing a mix of SIA and SilkAir to provide daily services. SilkAir became successful immediately and loadfactor of SIA also went up. We started SilkAir in Vizag last year.
The last few years have seen significant increase in terms of frequency, new flights. What were the driving factors?
Last year we got some additional rights for Mumbai so now Mumbai is the first Indian city to have three services in a day. Which is very good for the market as this is a business city and business travellers need the convenience of frequencies. They can go to Singapore in the morning and return to Mumbai at night the same day. We have also increased frequency in some SilkAir destinations – Coimbatore, Trivandrum, Kochi, and Hyderabad.
The combined SIA and SilkAir services have gone up from 78 when I first came to 95 weekly in the 29 months that I have been here. I think we will grow further. For instance, Vizag has done well for us which has surprised some people. I am not surprised as the city has an industrial base and has no non-stop flights to an international hub. Even when we had started Coimbatore the city was not connected to any international services hub, which Singapore provided with major connectivity to the rest of the world. There are many cities like this in India which can sustain international services. Once you have that connectivity, you can change the traffic flow.
Information about the new routes that you are introducing in India. Any new tier II Indian cities where you are looking at introducing SilkAir flights in the near future ?
There are some additional rights in places like Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad, that we are interested in but we have to make a pitch for it. If we get the rights we will look at expanding in some of the places. We are also looking at places like Lucknow, Jaipur, Trichy, Patna, Amritsar, Guwahati, Varanasi and Bhubaneswar. We are certainly looking at growing in India, in the course of this financial year we want to go past a century, from 95 weekly flights.
Your focus on Changi as a hub for Indian travellers. In which sector do you foresee growth?
The growth of the sectors from India will primarily be for Asia. China, India, Indonesia have big population base. Vietnam, Thailand are all growing rapidly. Because of the liberal aviation policy that we have, Changi gets carriers from all over the world. SIA group share of Changi airport traffic is below 40 per cent. This is good for the hub as the government has always said that the hub is more important than the airline. Of course a strong home airline is very important for the hub but the poilicy is to make Changi very attractive for all airlines. During the global crises they gave discount to all airlines on landing fees, at one time they gave 15 per cent discount on office space. Changi is forward thinking in that way and that strenghthens the hub.
How important is the India market in your plans for the future?
There is no question of the potential of Indian market. The rule of thumb is that air travel grows by double the rate of GDP, so if the Indian economy grows by six per cent, and air travel by 10, that is huge. Singapore benefits from the fact that the country has a significant Indian population, almost nine per cent. There is a large base of Indian professionals working in Singapore and strong historical links between the two countries.