SIA looks to launch 'flights to nowhere' by end-October to mitigate Covid-19 fallout: Sources

Singapore Airlines is looking to launch no-destination flights that will depart from and land in Changi Airport. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) is looking to launch no-destination flights that will depart from and land in Changi Airport next month, in a bid to give its ailing business a lift.

Sources told The Straits Times that the national carrier is working towards launching this option for domestic passengers - dubbed "flights to nowhere" - by end-October.

They said SIA also plans to explore a partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board to allow interested passengers to partially pay for such flights with tourism credits that will be given out by the Government.

Each flight is expected to take about three hours.

Mr Stefan Wood, director at aircraft charter firm Singapore Air Charter, told ST that he had approached SIA about the possibility of setting up a joint venture to provide such flights to nowhere using the Airbus A-350 planes from SIA.

But he said the talks stalled recently, with SIA indicating interest in going ahead with such plans on its own.

When asked by ST about the plans to launch flights to nowhere, a spokesman said: "SIA is considering several initiatives that would allow us to continue engaging both our customers and members of the public."

"We will make an announcement at the appropriate time if we go ahead with these plans."

Several airlines worldwide, including EVA Air in Taiwan, have piloted flights to nowhere in an attempt to cope with the drastic fall in demand for air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Like other airlines, SIA has been badly battered by the fallout from Covid-19. The SIA Group, which also includes regional arm SilkAir and budget carrier Scoot, announced on Thursday (Sept 10) that it will cut around 4,300 positions, with an estimated 2,400 employees expected to be affected after taking into account previous measures like a recruitment freeze.

SIA has operated a flight to nowhere before, for a charity initiative in 2015 when it ferried more than 300 beneficiaries of the Community Chest, such as children with special needs and the disadvantaged elderly.

While SIA did not provide any details on its proposed flights to nowhere, Mr Wood said he had envisioned a bundle package for such no-destination flights.

This would have included partnerships with hotels to offer staycations, shopping vouchers at Jewel Changi Airport and a limousine service to ferry customers around.

He is confident that there will be demand for such flights in Singapore should they eventually be launched.

A survey of 308 people that his firm conducted found 75 per cent were willing to pay for flights to nowhere.

The most popular price that respondents were willing to pay for an economy class seat was $288, with 45 per cent of respondents saying they were willing to do so. Meanwhile, 40 per cent said they were willing to pay $588 for a business class seat.

Sixty per cent of respondents said they would prefer the flight to last for two hours.

Mr Wood said of these flights to nowhere: "As travel opens, the novelty will certainly wear off. However, when bundled with a staycation, limo transfers and airport shopping experiences, people will lap it up."

He added that his firm will drop plans to launch flights to nowhere on commercial planes in Singapore if SIA successfully introduces its offering.

"To me, it is about the Singapore economy and pumping some money back into the sector," he said.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam noted that airlines such as EVA Air and Japan's All Nippon Airways have had good take-up rates on their flight-to-nowhere offerings.

"Some people may find flights to nowhere a novelty and they may be willing to give it a try and participate just for the thrill of it," he said.

Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation said such flights will at least break even and utilise aircraft and crew that would otherwise have been unused.

"Certainly doesn't hurt to do these flights but I wouldn't expect a big impact in terms of revenue or reduced losses during these challenging times," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.