Singapore Airlines' first Airbus 350 landed at Changi Airport yesterday, carrying with it the airline's hopes that the new plane will give it enough ammunition to battle key rivals in the long-haul premium market.
As the home carrier, a strong SIA is vital to augment Changi's premier air hub status amid intense competition from neighbouring airports in Hong Kong and South Korea.
With 67 aircraft on order - more than 60 per cent of its current total fleet - SIA is the biggest customer for the A-350-900.
There is a lot riding on the new plane, which SIA chief executive officer Goh Choon Phong repeatedly refers to as the "game changer".
Touted by Airbus to be 25 per cent more fuel-efficient than rival aircraft in the same category, the A-350 will allow SIA to expand its reach in Europe and elsewhere, he said.
With 253 seats in three classes - the fewest among SIA's planes - the A-350 is also optimally configured to achieve high load factors to boost the bottom line, analysts said.
While Emirates, Qatar and Cathay Pacific, among other full-service premium carriers, have been adding new flights and destinations, much of the growth within the SIA group the last few years has been driven by its regional carrier SilkAir and long-haul budget arm Scoot.
The A-350 is a key element in SIA's overall capacity growth and fleet renewal strategy, Mr Goh said yesterday after disembarking from the plane he had collected the day before at Airbus' headquarters in Toulouse, France. "Its improved operating efficiency offers us the opportunity to open up even more new routes, providing more travel options to our customers," he said.
SIA, which expects to get 11 of the A-350s this year, will deploy the planes initially on commercial services within Asia for crew training.
It will operate long-haul flights to Amsterdam from May, and Dusseldorf, Germany, from July. More destinations will be added later.
Aviation analyst Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics said the new aircraft could help SIA "regain some of its lost edge in the market" if well-utilised and marketed.
With so much at stake, it was only fitting that SIA's first A-350 received the grandest of welcomes at Changi Airport's Terminal 3, where it landed. As veteran pilot Quay Chew Eng, SIA's acting senior vice-president of flight operations, taxied the plane to the parking bay, two fire engines were on hand to give the A-350 a water-cannon salute - reserved only for historic aviation moments.
Inside the gatehold room, the welcoming party led by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and SIA chairman Stephen Lee broke into cheers as the plane landed.
Airbus president and chief executive Fabrice Bregier said he and his team are committed to ensuring that all 67 planes are delivered to SIA in tip-top condition and on time.
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