The Singapore Airlines group, which operates 175 weekly flights out of India, including 17 from the city, is replacing its ageing Boeing 777 fleet with the modern A350s in the Mumbai-Singapore sector from tomorrow. The airline group, which way back in 1992 had tried to enter the country with the Tatas and has since then tied up with same group and operates Vistara, refused to speculate on whether it is interested in the national carrier Air India, which has been put on block for privatisation. “As a policy we don’t respond to market speculation,” was all Singapore Airlines India general manager David Lim would say when sought his views on the government’s move to disinvest the debt-ridden airline and whether his group will be interested in the same. The aviation policy allows 49 per cent ownership by foreign carriers in domestic airlines. The details of the Air India divestment is not clear. He also announced discount fares as part of Singapore Airlines’ 70th anniversary, starting from Rs 22,070, to the city-state in the new aircraft beginning tomorrow. Singapore Airlines, on its own, operates over 55 flights a week from India, while the group, that comprises Silk Air, Scoot and Tiger Air, operates the rest connecting 15 cities in the country.
The new 253-seater wide-body plane, which is youngest aircraft in the industry now, will have 42 business class seats, 24 premium economy and 187 economy seats, while the 777 was carrying 263 passengers. Lim said Mumbai is the first city to have A350 deployed, and said Delhi may get the same in a year’s time. He said the airline will continue to operate the larger A380s from Mumbai in the evening peak hours. It operates three flights out of Mumbai and a similar number into the city a day, making it the biggest market for the airline in the country. “Mumbai will be the 16th destination within our network to receive the Airbus A350-900 aircraft,” Lim said. Asked about the lower seat numbers, making it lose passengers, he said the marginally lower seating capacity will be taken care of by the higher number of business class and the introduction of the premium economy class.
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So, from a revenue perspective it will serve us better. Then there is the lower airport charges since A350 is lighter than the 777 and also more fuel efficient, he said. Singapore Airlines group, which has a bilateral rights, enjoys more than 50 per cent market share in the India- Singapore sector, while the six domestic airlines have only 80 flights a week. Singapore Airlines, being the launch customer, took delivery of its first A350-900 in March 2016 and now has 15 of the aircraft type in its fleet, with another 52 on firm order, including seven of an ultra-long-range A350-900 ULR variant whose deliveries will begin in 2018.