Firefly resumes flights to Singapore

13 Jun 2022 02:27pm
Firefly has reinstated its flights to Seletar Airport, Singapore that had been suspended since March 2020 due to Covid-19. - Photo: BERNAMA
Firefly has reinstated its flights to Seletar Airport, Singapore that had been suspended since March 2020 due to Covid-19. - Photo: BERNAMA

SINGAPORE - Firefly, a wholly-owned unit of the Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG), has reinstated its flights to Seletar Airport here that had been suspended since March 2020 due to Covid-19.

Flight FY3124 departed from Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport and arrived with 64 passengers, including Firefly chief executive officer Philip See and his accompanying delegation, on board this morning.

Firefly’s maiden flight to Seletar was in April 2019.

Speaking to reporters, See hopes that demand will pick up and gradually go back to pre-pandemic levels.

The airline, which flew six ATR, a twin-engine turboprop, flights daily to Singapore previously, flies two times a day for now.

"We will be looking at the current performance of these two daily flights first to decide on the crystallised timeline. Naturally, if demand picks up, you will do it in phases two times and then four times and six times.

"That's how we plan to introduce it. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we hope to increase the schedule. It is a function of the situation and where market demand is at the moment,” he said.

On the number of passengers that Firefly expects to carry by year-end, See hopes it could reach 60,000 to 70, 000 when the frequency is increased.

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"To give you a sense, ATR carries about 72 passengers. If the load is about 50 packs, one way, so two flights a day that's 100 packs one way (and) return 200 (packs). So, you've got 200 days left (that gives) 40,000. That's the minimum,” he said.

On the passenger load before Covid-19, See said with six flights a day, the load was about 50 per cent to 60 per cent.

See noted that today’s flight was about 80 per cent full.

"With two flights a day, you're going to see some spillover. As we ramp up gradually, you will move to 50 per cent and 60 per cent.

However, See noted that Firefly’s customers "are mostly corporate business travel.”

"We are not here about packing the seats to the maximum. It's really about giving a great schedule and then people are willing to pay for the schedule. Our strategy here is really about driving yield. Not load for the business.”

For this week alone, See said the loads are very high, close to 60 per cent to 70 per cent.

"Booking profile is very short for Kuala Lumpur-Singapore because simply they are corporate travellers. They will make decisions three or four days before departure. The pre-load booking looks very robust simply because it's only two flights a day,” he said.

On whether Firefly will operate ATR for Penang-Seletar, See said not at the moment as the aircraft does not have the range to fly route and it has to do it via Changi Airport.

"We will evaluate that. We haven't confirmed anything. We have to do the market assessment. It has to be from Changi because Seletar only takes turboprop operations and turboprop has no capacity or range to do Penang-Singapore.

If it does it, it should be "feasible and commercially viable” for Firefly, he said.

When is it possible, See said the group "will have to review its plans on a quarterly basis.”

"We will make the right announcements at the right time because there are so many things to focus on. We have to get going as the Penang jet (operations) just started only in mid-May. We are trying to build that up and grow the market.

"As international borders reopen, we have to also prioritise which routes and markets we're going to focus on.” He said Firefly will not reinstate international flights to other destinations in the next 12 months or expand to other new destinations.

"We were focusing on just making Subang-Seletar work. Build the load (and) the volume as the market is huge. We want to focus on that at the moment.

"There isn't any thought at the moment to expand. To be fair, I understand the question from the point that we used to operate like Ipoh-Singapore and Kuantan-Singapore. At the moment we're very much focused on just getting Subang-Seletar work.

"Singapore by far is the most significant and largest value for the group because the market is high yield... the market is corporate... the market values time substantially. And that is why Firefly is in such a unique position to operate this service from Subang-Seletar.”

Asked about the manpower crunch in the aviation industry, See said at the moment Firefly did not see it as a significant challenge.

"The airports (Subang and Seletar) design is so simple. We don't really have the complications as perhaps you will see in major transit hubs like KLIA or Singapore Changi.

However, he said the airline is going to look at it on a day-to-day basis.

"The environment here is very volatile, not only in Singapore but around the region. So we're going to be monitoring this very carefully,” he said.

Firefly operates a fleet of ATR 72-500 turboprops, connecting various destination points within Malaysia, Singapore, Southern Thailand, and Sumatera, while aligning with the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) agenda.

The airline launched its new jet operations with a fleet of Boeing 737-800s out of Penang, connecting northern and southern parts of Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. - BERNAMA