SINGAPORE - After ditching Singapore for Dubai as a stopover for its Australia-Europe flights, the Flying Kangaroo will return to Changi Airport in March next year - five years after its exit.
In a significant boost to Singapore's air hub status, Australia's Qantas said on Thursday (Aug 31) that from March 25, it will, once again, operate its daily Sydney-London service via Singapore.
Since April 2013, the airline has been operating its Sydney-London and Melbourne-London services via Dubai, as part of a 10-year commercial alliance with its national carrier, Emirates. Before that, both flights stopped in Singapore first.
With the recent announcement, the flight from Sydney will be re-routed to operate via Singapore. A new Melbourne-Perth-London service will also be launched.
From next March, Qantas will also increase the number of Melbourne-Singapore flights and operate the service with the bigger A-380 instead of the current A-330.
The extra services will mean an additional 3,806 one-way seats - a 5.5 per cent increase - on Singapore-Australia routes every week.
Capacity on Singapore-Britain routes will increase by 18.3 per cent, or an extra 3,388 one-way seats a week.
The changes are part of plans to shift capacity to a fast-growing Asia market, Qantas' chief executive officer Alan Joyce told The Straits Times in a telephone interview after the airline announced its future plans.
"Customers in Singapore will have a greater choice of services, aircraft and cabins, with first and premium economy available on the A-380 between Singapore and London, as well as between Sydney and Melbourne," he said.
The airline's 12 A-380s will undergo a cabin refurbishment in the second quarter of 2019, and will feature new business class and premium economy seats, a
refreshed first cabin and new cushions and fabrics in economy.
Asked if customers had asked for a return to Singapore as a stopover for flights to Europe, Mr Joyce was diplomatic: "Some of them like to stop in Perth, some in Singapore and some in Dubai. This (the changes) gives the customer more choice."
However, he said that there are no plans for Qantas to resume Melbourne-London flights via Singapore.
As for whether the Sydney-Singapore-London service is meant to be an interim measure, while Qantas waits for Airbus or Boeing to build a plane that can allow it to operate the flight to London non-stop, Mr Joyce said he cannot rule anything out.
He also denied that the decision to shift out of Dubai, was due to recent security concerns in the Middle East, which some analysts have suggested.
Even as he announced plans to beef up Australia-Singapore services, Mr Joyce stressed that Emirates remains a key partner.
"The first five years of the Qantas-Emirates alliance have been a great success. Emirates has given Qantas customers an unbeatable network into Europe that is still growing... Dubai will remain an important hub for our customers," he said.
Welcoming Qantas' decision to make a comeback, Changi Airport Group's managing director for air hub development Lim Ching Kiat said: "This development secures Changi Airport as the most connected international airport to Australia, in terms of the number of both city links and seats, and strengthens our position as the region's leading air hub.
"We look forward to continue working with Qantas to explore new opportunities to boost its business and operations at Changi."
Australia is among Changi Airport's top five country markets in terms of passenger traffic, with more than 5.5 million passengers travelling between Singapore and Australia annually.
For the first seven months of 2017, passenger traffic between the two countries rose 3.6 per cent year on year to 3.3 million. During this period, Sydney and Melbourne were Changi's 10th and 11th busiest routes respectively.