How Singapore Airlines Became The World’s Best Airline

Singapore was recently awarded the coveted #1 spot in the Startracks airline awards, adding another feather to their already brimming cap.

But how did they become the world best airline? And what can other airlines learn from them?

1947 – Founding a new airline

Singapore Airlines has one of the more interesting beginnings than say the way most airlines are founded these days. They were founded by a consortium made up of two steamship companies and old Imperial Airways (Founded on 1 May 1947, by the Ocean Steamship Company of Liverpool, the Straits Steamship Company of Singapore and Imperial Airways), as a way to capture the growing ‘airline’ business.

They called this new airline Malayan Airways Limited and would focus on the straight of Malacca and the nearby British colonies.

Their first plane was an ex-royal air force plane, an Airspeed Consul, that flew between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur once a week. Naturally, as it was a British colony at the time, the airline had plenty of technical support from other commonwealth (Or colonies as it was back then) airlines, such as Qantas.

 1957 – Start-up growth

From 1947 to 1957, Malayan Airways underwent a rapid expansion, creating new routes across the region, to Indonesia and to Borneo. They also went public at this time and began to trade on the local stock market (to help raise capital).

In 1963, when the territories of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak combined to form the Federation of Malaysia, the airline changed its name from Malayan Airways to Malaysian Airways. This, of course, is very similar to the actual Malaysian Airlines we know today.

The livery of the new airline.

But only three years later when Singapore (the country) left the federation, that they rebranded yet again to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA).

This was also when they bought their first Boeing aircraft, a 707. They loved it so much that they bought a variety of Boeing 737s afterward.

The silver and yellow livery of the airline.

1972 – The great split and rapid expansion.

In 1972, there was a decision to make. Either focus on domestic routes in Mayalsia or expand international routes from Singapore. Neither could be decided so both were chosen, and MSA shut down to form two new airlines, Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airlines System (Which would then go on to form the national flag carrier of Malaysia).

With the name finally sorted and their new mission in play, Singapore was able to rapidly expand to dominate the local area. In the summer of 1973, their first two Boeing 747 jumbos arrived, which were put to work on the very profitable Singapore to Hong Kong route.

They were also the first airline to run the ‘capital’ route, Singapore, Canberra then onto Wellington.

1977 – Concorde

Singapore operated a concord with British Airways. One side was painted in BA livery, the other side was Singapore livery.

A little unknown piece of history was that Singapore actually ran a Concorde flight partnered with British Airways, between Singapore and London. Concorde services at British Airways were originally supposed to go to Australia, routing London-Bahrain-Singapore-Sydney, but was fully realized.

The service only ran three times and had to be discontinued after Malaysia and India forbid the plane flying through their airspace (Due to the noise). They tried trading slots at Heathrow to the governments of these two countries, but they did not come to an agreement.

The airline continued to expand, opening up routes to Europe and America during this time. Their 747’s were now being run direct from Singapore to the US West Coast.

1989 – Singapore enters the short-haul market.

In 1989, Singapore launched SilkAir, their short-haul carrier. This airline would focus on short-haul routes to feed Singapore’s international routes.

In 2004, Singapore started a new service to fly from Singapore to New York with an A340, the longest air route in the world. They used the Airbus A340 with their four engines. They also experimented with creating all business class planes, as it was uncomfortable for such long flights to be in an economy seat (tell that to Qantas with their 16 hour London to Perth route!)

How Singapore Airlines Became The World’s Best Airline
A Singapore A340

This was not without controversy, however, as many countries objected to Singapore running fifth freedom flights through their airports. Australia wanted to protect Qantas, Indonesia to protect Garuda and Canada to protect Air Canada respectively.

Singapore with their huge fleet of 747’s and many other high capacity aircraft could simply beat out the local competition.

2007 – Arrival of the A380

Singapore A380

Singapore wanted to change the airline game again, and this time they did it by becoming the launch customer of the A380. They now have the 2nd largest fleet of A380s behind Emirates. With the added room on board, Singapore started to experiment with true luxury first class suites (Not like the rather embarrassing first class found on Air France).

They have used the A380 to phase out their 747 fleet, and with the added capacity to dominate traffic between major cities.

2018 – Onwards to the future

Singapore Airlines has recently launched their new direct service Singapore to New York using the Airbus A350-900 long-range aircraft.

Singapore Airlines Growth
Singapore’s A350-ULRs have a modified fuel system for longer range. Photo: Airbus

They now plan to use these aircraft to open other long-haul routes, Singapore to Seattle, Chicago and more.

What can we learn from Singapore?

There are several lessons that airlines can learn from Singapore’s journey.

  • Embracing the latest planes. Singapore was the launch customer of the A380, the first to use the Boeing 747 across the Pacific from South East Asia and have recently started deploying the new A350-900ULR  between Singapore and New York. New planes allow new route opportunities. Additionally, they have realized that newer planes are better performing and create a better customer experience. By ensuring that they have a flexible and young fleet (under 10 years) they can buy or lease the newest planes and take advantage of features other airlines only dream about.
  • Innovative with customer experience. Singapore has always been very innovative when it comes to customer experience. They were the first airline to have satellite communications for passengers, on-demand seatback entertainment screens for economy and first-class suites on board their A380.

It’s because of these things that Singapore is truly one of the most innovative airlines in the sky today. That and their rich history of taking advantage of their geographical location, have made their awards justly deserved.

Let us know what you think in the comments! Does Singapore deserve to be the world best airline?