Does Singapore Airlines know something the rest of us doesn’t? Melbourne has notched up 100 plus days of lockdown and international passenger arrivals into its airport remain banned. But in December, the sector between Singapore and Melbourne will become Singapore Airlines’ busiest global route. Perhaps they are banking on the lockdown getting lifted and hordes of Melbournians fleeing town?
Singapore Airlines a familiar sight at Melbourne Airport
The familiar kris bird logo has been a regular sight at Melbourne Airport since 1972. In recent decades, Australia has been well served by Singapore Airlines, with the airline flying to six capital cities. In return, plenty of Australians have happily boarded a Singapore Airlines flight. Over 2019, Singapore Airlines handled 8.3% (or 3.52 million) of Australia’s international airline passenger movements.
In 2019, before the travel downturn, the Melbourne – Singapore city pair was the busiest international route in and out of Australia. 1,629,492 passengers made the trip in either direction that year. Five airlines plied the route; Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, Jetstar, and Scoot. Singapore Airlines was running at least four return services each day, usually using A350 or Boeing 777-300ER planes. In peak times, there were extra frequencies and seasonal appearances by the A380.
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That all fell off a cliff earlier this year. Singapore Airlines drastically scaled back services to Australia. But unlike local airline, Qantas, Singapore Airlines managed to maintain a barebones service in and out of Australia, including to Melbourne. The Singaporean airline is now the sole operator on the city pair.
Melbourne Airport remains closed to international passenger arrivals
In late June, on the back of a second wave of COVID-19 in Melbourne, the decision was made to close Melbourne Airport to all international passenger arrivals. Non-Australian citizens and Australians with permission to travel could leave from Melbourne, but no-one (including Australians) could come in. The closure was meant to be for a few weeks, but it remains in place nearly four months down the track.
With the Melbourne lockdowns continuing, the airport closed to international arrivals, and Australian citizens generally not allowed to leave the country, why would any airline persist with flying into Melbourne?
Cargo helps keep services to Melbourne in the air
Underwriting a lot of international traffic in and out of Australia (and elsewhere) is cargo. Cargo is proving to be the salvation of many airlines this year. Several airlines, including Singapore Airlines, are doing brisk business flying cargo and in out of Melbourne on passenger planes.
Still, it’s a tough environment to make a dollar in, and there must be easier cities to focus on than Melbourne. So, it’s interesting to see that the Melbourne – Singapore city pair will be Singapore Airlines’ busiest route this December.
According to an analysis in AnnaAero last week, Melbourne will become Singapore Airlines’ number-one route by weekly passenger departures in December. Singapore Airlines will have 13 flights a week out of Melbourne over December. In contrast, London Heathrow will see 12 departures a week, Tokyo will have six departures, and Los Angeles three departures a week.
The same report alludes to the importance of cargo on the flights from Melbourne. It says seafood, pork, beef, car parts, and aircraft parts were helping to fill planes out of the city.
And given that there’s no end in sight for both long-suffering Melbourne residents and Australians elsewhere wanting to get out of the country, boxes of beef fillet will likely be taking the place of passengers on flights out of Melbourne for a fair while yet.