That Singapore Airlines (SIA) emerged recently as the brand with the most positive image among Singapore consumers attests to its iconic place in the nation's economic history. A metaphor of Singapore's flight into the unknown on its unexpected Independence, SIA has retained its place in the national psychology. It has done so by showing how what was once an underdog airline - like the nation whose flag it carried - could become a talking point for larger and older competitors across the globe. SIA embedded itself in the imagination of a people who wanted to survive and discovered success as well.
However, airlines, like nations, start getting old and set in their ways. Leaner, meaner and hungrier rivals arrive on the scene, promising more for less. Comparable safety records, punctual take-off times and better in-flight service are narrowing the distance between now-established airlines and upstarts, such as SIA once was. Meanwhile, budget airlines are aspiring to overtake full-service airlines, competing with them on cost to compensate for spartan service. On short hauls, that is largely a winning formula. Like Europe and America, Asia is being united by relatively low-cost air travel, which is to this century what train journeys were to the preceding one.
SIA needs to ride these changes, much as Singapore needs to confront regional and wider challenges to its economic position. Products, services and networks constituting the main pillars of brand promise - the airline must invest in them consistently. Ultimately, meeting challenges rests on SIA staff. They must understand, and be rewarded for understanding, that they are working for not only a business but also an institution.