Singapore Airlines Could Launch Fifth Freedom Tokyo To New York Flights

Singapore Airlines has been granted fifth freedom rights by the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to operate a route between Tokyo and New York. We take a look at what this means for SIA, and whether a fifth freedom route is really on the cards.

Singapore Airlines A350
Singapore Airlines could be launching a new fifth freedom route. Photo: Getty Images

Fifth freedom flights approved

According to a news report by CAN, Japan has granted fifth freedom rights to Singapore Airlines to operate flights to New York. The right was granted by  Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism on December 30th, which could mean SIA is looking to launch a new Tokyo to New York service.

The announcement was made by Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Kazuyoshi Akaba‎, during a working visit to Singapore. During the announcement he said,

“We sincerely hope that this will be a new milestone, a new step in possible cooperation opportunities for Singapore and All Nippon Airways in codesharing flights and other areas.”

It’s interesting to see that the agreement is based on some cooperation with ANA. Right now, ANA has in place a joint venture with United for these transpacific flights, and is unlikely to want to spread that agreement to other airlines. Likely, this would be a simple codeshare on the Tokyo to New York flights.

SIA’s United States routes

Singapore Airlines is already pretty well endowed with fifth freedom routes to the US. It has routes from Singapore which pick up passengers in Manchester, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Tokyo which end up in Houston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angles respectively. In addition to this, the airline flies directly to LA, Newark, Seattle and San Francisco from Singapore.

SIA fifth freedom route
The fifth freedom route to JFK via Tokyo. Image: GCMap

Adding another route to the US, particularly a second to New York, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If it was indeed a fifth freedom flight, SIA would be competing with some solid airlines for market share of the route, not least JAL and ANA. However, as Mr. Akaba said there would be some cooperation with ANA, perhaps there will be some forward planning in terms of schedules.

Will it really happen?

There are several pointers that suggest perhaps this route is not as much on the cards as it may seem.

According to One Mile At A Time, the original request for this fifth freedom flight was made back in June 2019, with a view to launching service in March 2020. As it’s taken so long for the permission to be granted, it’s likely that the launch date will also be later than planned, almost certainly into the Summer 2020 season.

At the time the route was requested, SIA may well have been thinking about cashing in on some of the Tokyo Olympics traffic. With such a long time before the agreement, it may be that the boat has already sailed on that idea.

SIA A380
The FRA-JFK fifth freedom is operated by an A380. Photo: SIA

OMAAT also suggests that perhaps the route would be in lieu of another service. Lucky highlighted the Frankfurt fifth freedom route as being ripe for change, judging by the low prices and load factors on this service. Perhaps SIA feel that resource could be better put to use on a fifth freedom via Tokyo?

For now, all we know is permission has been granted. Until an official announcement is made by SIA, we’ll just have to wait and see.