Singapore—Perhaps no other sector has been hit so hard by the coronavirus pandemic than travel, with the aviation industry feeling its effects very badly indeed.
Earlier this year, the International Air Transport Association warned that 25 million jobs in the aviation industry are at risk, with the bulk of these jobs in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, revenues from passenger flights could decrease by as much as a third or a trillion US dollars.
Newly-minted Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung took to Facebook last Thursday (September 10) to talk about retrenchments for the country’s flagship carrier, with around 2,400 SIA staff based in Singapore and overseas affected by the reduction.
He began his sombre post by writing, “What we have dreaded all these months has happened.”
While the aviation sector has been the biggest beneficiary of government support schemes and the airliner itself raising “significant capital with the support of its majority shareholder,” even so, the retrenchments “unfortunately become inevitable,” Mr Ong wrote.
And now, could the solution—or at least part of it—come in the form of “domestic travel?”
Other Asian countries—including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines— have been able to prevent too many losses through domestic flights, which is not possible for Singapore, given its small size.
The domestic flights proposed in Singapore are of a different kind, as these are known better as “trips to nowhere,” with passengers who miss travelling being allowed to board flights that take short outward bound trips, and then come back home again.
A survey conducted by Singapore Air Charter showed that 75 percent of the 308 respondents said they’re willing to spend on such “flights to nowhere,” with many respondents saying they’d shell out S$288 for a seat in economy class, or S$588 for one in business class.
Tickets to such flights have already been sold by EVA Air and China Airlines in Taiwan, as well as Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA).
And, in Singapore, plans to have these “flights to nowhere,” reported on September 13 in straitstimes.com (ST) in partnership with hotels for staycations, limousine services and shopping vouchers at Jewel Changi Airport, certainly sweeten the deal.
There are many advantages to these “domestic flights” for Singapore Airlines. For one, planes that are not in use require tremendous maintenance, and therefore keeping them flying may actually save money. Bloomberg reported in April that parked airplanes “need plenty of work and attention while in storage, from maintenance of hydraulics and flight-control systems to protection against insects and wildlife — nesting birds can be a problem. Then there’s humidity, which can corrode parts and damage interiors. Even when parked on runways, planes are often loaded with fuel to keep them from rocking in the wind and to ensure tanks stay lubricated.”
Additionally, Singapore Airlines’ “domestic flights” will keep more people employed, especially when done in partnership with other business establishments, as well as help boost the economy.
ST says that there are also plans for the carrier to partner with the Singapore Tourism Board for passengers to cover the costs using tourism credits.
However, one disadvantage of this plan is that it will exact a heavy toll on the environment, as all flying does. Flying is responsible for a significant amount of carbon emissions.
“Greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector are a substantial contributor to global warming. If the aviation industry were a country, it would place sixth in emissions, between Japan and Germany. Left unchecked global aviation will generate an estimated 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2050, constituting almost 5% of the global emissions allowable to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius,” according to the Biological Diversity website.
When exactly Singapore Airlines will begin its “domestic flights” is uncertain but ST says these could start by next month. /TISG
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