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Flights to nowhere: On saving SIA, flying skills and Earth

Straits Times Facebook users suggested that flights to nowhere may be for maintaining pilot skills and planes, and not so much for making money for battered airline SIA. So eco-groups hoping to stop SIA from launching them by offering alternatives may be disappointed.

The house is on fire and needs to be saved - opposing camps debating the merits of no-destination flights agree on this. But one thinks the house is Singapore Airlines (SIA), which is battered by the Covid-19 crisis fallout, while the other thinks it is Earth facing a climate crisis.

Straits Times Facebook user Raymond Tan said: "So your house is on fire, but you ask the firemen not to put out the fire because the extinguisher in front of you has chemicals and ask them to think of another way. Meanwhile, your house is still burning. That's how relevant environmentalists sound right now."

But looking at the bigger picture - the bigger "house" that is Earth - could make the environmentalists' concerns relevant when you think of climate refugees like families driven out of homes by raging fires.

ST Facebook user Matthew Chua Boon Hou said: "Have you seen the fires burning in Western USA, Australia and Siberia even? Have you seen the terrible hurricanes hitting Florida and the increased number of floods all over the world?

"Let's not kid ourselves, there is only one Earth. Unless some aliens come to save us and bring us to another planet, we better stop all this nonsense before the planet is completely destroyed by us."


ST reported recently that SIA is planning to launch a flights-to-nowhere campaign, with each flight taking about three hours. In response to queries then, SIA said it is considering several initiatives, and reiterated that "none of these plans have been firmed up".

The problem of increased carbon emissions is just the tip of the iceberg if SIA launches flights to nowhere, environmental groups said in an ST report. Such flights are difficult to justify because they do not provide transport to any destination, they added. Producing and later incinerating used in-flight amenities, such as face masks and surface wipes, also adds to carbon emissions.

But people are gripped more by problems that are in their face.

Terence Goh said: "It's an issue with 'far away water cannot save near fire'. That's why desperate move in any way that can make money for the company to survive first. Guess in this instance, any environmental impact became a secondary consideration."


NG Chou Meng said: "I'm pro cutting down on carbon emissions but it's a matter of survival during this unprecedented period. Alternatively, the environment groups may propose better."

And they are trying to do so.

Eco-groups said they understand that SIA is now facing tough times amid the Covid-19 crisis, and it recently carried out a retrenchment exercise. They are crowdsourcing alternative ideas from the public, to help SIA generate income.

They have received more than 1,000 responses and plan to send them to SIA.

A photo taken in February on board a relatively empty Singapore Airlines flight from Jakarta to Singapore. ST reported recently that SIA is planning to launch a flights-to-nowhere campaign. SIA has said that “none of these plans have been firmed up”. Eco-groups argue that such flights are difficult to justify because they do not provide transport to any destination. PHOTO: AFP


There are probably lots of great, creative ideas in the mix, but the flights to nowhere may have a value that is beyond making money.

Some ST Facebook users pointed out that it is also about maintaining planes and flying skills.

OC Yeo wrote: "I don't think this is about revenue... Think about this: Keep your cars parked for months without use - what you think that will do to the engines? Next: the pilots. Flying a plane is not like driving a car. They need to clock the hours to meet international regulations; or would you fly with a pilot who has not flown for months?

"So if the planes and the pilots need to fly now in order to be ready when travel restrictions ease off, might as well use those flights to generate some revenue and cover costs of each flight very partially. So think first before dismissing it."

There are simulators for training, of course, but Ai Ghee Ong speculated: "SIA would have to do it - the flights to nowhere - with or without passengers. Paying passengers is just a bonus. Won't generate any significant revenue anyway."

Well, we'll see about that, since Qantas Airways said its seven-hour flight to nowhere sold out in 10 minutes. But it does offer amazing views as it will fly at low levels over Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour.

Some ST Facebook users are up for it, like Myke Muk K C who is dreaming of "a first-class experience for those who can never afford it".

Al said: "Remove all the chairs and convert it to party planes! Loud music and booze! Pretty sure there's gonna be lots of bookings."

Whoa, careful now, you will still need safe distancing measures, though lots of bookings will be (loud) music to the battered airline's ears.