Scoot to expand long-haul routes; to collect second Boeing 787 fitted with crew bunks

File photo of Scoot's 787 Dreamliner. PHOTO: SCOOT

SEATTLE, UNITED STATES - Low-cost carrier Scoot is planning to expand its long-haul routes so that such routes will account for a "significant part" of the network, the company said, as it gears up to launch its longest service - a Singapore-Athens flight - in June.

In the next two to three years, it aims to have at around three to four long-haul routes.

The Singapore Airlines subsidiary collected its second Boeing 787 Dreamliner fitted with crew bunks - a requirement for long-haul operations - on Thursday morning (US time) from Seattle, with the airplane expected to land at Changi Airport in the late afternoon on Friday (May 12).

With the first arriving in April and two similar 787s to be delivered by year end, Scoot is now aiming for a second long-haul destination.

The carrier is "not too far" from making an announcement on this, said Mr Lee Lik Hsin, chief executive of Budget Aviation Holdings which operates Scoot and Tigerair.

He declined to say where the new long-haul service would fly to, but noted that the carrier was not limiting itself to Europe and was considering destinations on other continents.

The Straits Times understands, however, that Scoot is now seeking approval from the authorities in the United States for a Singapore to Honolulu, Hawaii, service, with a stop in Osaka, Japan. The route could be launched by year end, if all goes as planned.

The Singapore-Osaka leg takes six hours and 40 minutes, and onward, another seven hours and 50 minutes to reach Honolulu.

Mr Lee noted that flying further at budget fares is now economically viable, owing largely to the lower fuel prices.

Scoot's new long-haul Dreamliner is fitted with crew bunks. PHOTO: SCOOT, BOEING

But the "new era for route expansion" with the new 787s will not overtake the medium-haul share of the pie, Mr Lee said. Medium-haul will "still hold half, if not, more than that" of Scoot's network, he added.

"If fuel price goes up, and we can, we try to charge higher fares, in order to still make the (long-haul) route viable... We pride ourselves on being flexible, so we can change our network plans within a fairly short timeframe," he said.

The price of jet fuel has plunged by almost half compared to three years ago, leading budget airlines to explore long-haul routes. In September, Norwegian will launch a Singapore-London service.

At 11½ hours, Scoot's new route from Singapore to Athens tops its Singapore-Jeddah service at nine hours. Scoot's earlier 787s, of which there are 12 planes, did not have crew rest areas because these are not required for flights of up to about 10½ hours.

As Scoot stretches its wings, Mr Lee is confident it can withstand the keen competition, because of the integration of Scoot and Tigerair and the full merger into a single airline.

"We have a strong network in Asia, supported by the Tigerair A320 flights. We are able to carry the passengers not just to Singapore but to Bali, Phuket (for example), and that capability is something we feel is not so easily replicated," said Mr Lee.

Centre for Aviation analyst Brendan Sobie said with more crew bunk-equipped planes on the way, Scoot will need to ramp up its long-haul offerings.

"Scoot needs to select and start selling long-haul routes quickly, or it will risk compromising efficiency by using long-haul aircraft on medium-haul operations," said Mr Sobie.

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