SINGAPORE - Budget carrier Scoot has operated its first flights using its new Airbus A321neo aircraft, having received three of the planes last month.
TR610 departed Singapore at about 3.20pm on Monday (June 28) and was set to land in Bangkok about 2½ hours later. The return flight, TR611, was scheduled to depart Bangkok later in the evening and land in Singapore at about 9pm.
Scoot, the budget arm of Singapore Airlines (SIA), declined to say how many passengers were on the flights, citing commercial sensitivity.
On Monday, it said it will use the A321neo for flights to Cebu in the Philippines and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam from August.
The A321neo can accommodate 236 passengers - 50 more than can be carried by the older-generation A320ceo and A320neo aircraft that Scoot had been using for short-haul flights.
It has a flight time of up to six hours, compared with the A320 planes' five hours.
During a virtual press conference on Monday, Scoot chief executive Campbell Wilson said: "The aircraft confers us this opportunity to expand the footprint and bring new things to the Scoot network that we have not been able to do before."
He said the carrier is considering new routes on which to deploy the A321neo - he did not specify any examples, but said possible routes include those that were previously terminated because of economic considerations.
He added that the A321neo is also more environmentally friendly than the A320. For example, it is expected to produce 5,000 tonnes less carbon dioxide per aircraft and 50 per cent less noise.
Scoot had ordered 16 A321neo aircraft in 2019 to support its growth. Of these, 10 will be leased and the remaining six will be owned by Scoot. All of the planes are expected to be delivered by 2024.
During SIA's annual results briefing in May, Mr Wilson said Scoot had sought to defer the delivery of the aircraft from lessors amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but was unsuccessful.
Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation noted that Scoot has been using its wide-body Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes more than its narrow-body A320 planes during the Covid-19 pandemic, as wide-body planes are able to carry more cargo.
"The A321neo is good in cases of high passenger demand, but isn't the ideal aircraft for a scenario with low passenger numbers yet high cargo demand," he said.
In response to questions during the virtual press conference on Monday, Mr Wilson said the carrier is confident that demand for air travel will recover.
He cited the International Air Transport Association's forecast that international air travel will return to pre-Covid-19 levels by 2023, adding: "What gives us confidence is that when we look at parts of the world where regulatory constraints have been removed... we have seen that travel has recovered very fast.
"So as and when the constraints on travel have been removed in this part of the world, we expect a similar trajectory."
Scoot is currently operating at just 17 per cent of its passenger capacity compared with before the pandemic. It is operating flights to 26 destinations across 15 countries or territories, down from 68 previously.
Mr Wilson said that should the carrier's major markets - India, Australia and China - open up, that would boost Scoot's prospects of recovery. These three countries had accounted for more than half of Scoot's passenger capacity prior to the pandemic, he added.
On whether further cost-cutting measures are needed on top of several measures last year such as retrenchment and pay cuts, Mr Wilson said: "We continue to be very, very prudent on our costs... at this point in time we are confident about the steps that we have made and don't feel that there is going to be a need (for) dramatic, further steps.
"But as to when we can start relaxing some of the measures and discipline we currently have in place, I think we need to see a bit more sustained recovery."