Firefly back in business with Singapore

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 16 Apr 2019

Philip See is currently the head of strategy at Malaysia Airlines Bhd, the sister company of Firefly

IT’S good news, not just for Malaysia Airlines Berhad, but for many Malaysians who prefer to use the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang to fly to Singapore.

The route via the airport to the republic, which was suspended in December 2018, has incurred a loss of up to RM20mil for its subsidiary, FlyFirefly Sdn Bhd, said Malaysia Airlines Group chief executive Captain Izham Ismail.

Izham said the suspension had caused a “huge dent” in MAB, saying that “the exposure, revenue loss (from the suspension) is RM15mil, so we’re looking at RM15mil to RM20mil revenue loss on a monthly basis.”

The point is – the airline business is hugely different from other trades because it’s a highly regulated one and a decision from a foreign or national government can severely impact an airliner financially in situations well beyond the company’s control.

Firefly suspended its operations to Singapore following Malaysia’s protest of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport.

Firefly had to cancel flights and reimburse its passengers because of Singapore’s decision and for many Malaysians, that came at a cost of great inconvenience.

But the Malaysian premium short-haul airline will resume its flights to Singapore from this Sunday, April 21. The airline will shuttle between the Subang and Seletar airports twice daily from April 22 to 28, followed thereafter by six daily flights.

Despite the switch from Changi airport to Seletar, which may seem further away from the city centre, the truth is, the island republic is just a tiny place.

Seletar is in the northeast but its location makes very little difference. It was originally set up in 1982 as a Royal Air Force station and later evolved into Singapore’s first international airport.

But fast forward to 2019, and Seletar is set to become a hub for turboprop operators, private jets and chartered flights.

The new Seletar airport terminal has been upgraded at a cost of S$80mil (RM243mil), is six times larger than the original terminal and capable of handling up to 700,000 commercial and business aviation passengers annually, according to Inflight Global.

According to Channel News Asia, the two-storey, 10,000sq m terminal can handle about 26 times more passengers than the numbers it saw in 2016.

Another reason to rejoice is that the departure area will house four check-in counters, six immigration lanes, two security screening stations and a gate hold room that can accommodate 200 passengers.

It has been a long grievance of Malaysian passengers that they are made to wait for hours at the Changi terminal after landing.

This writer has even complained about the long queue there to the Singapore High Commission and it certainly doesn’t help that the immigration officers – like many around the world – make visitors feel as if they are doing us a favour.

I haven’t been to the new terminal but I’ve learnt that it’s good.

However, I hope it offers good food options and bookshops, although Changi’s main terminal standards shouldn’t be expected.

On safety, it has been reported that the construction of the new Seletar airport terminal included the lengthening of the runway and erecting a new control tower.

Three additional aircraft parking stands will also be installed next to the terminal to increase turnaround efficiency and boarding convenience.

The new Seletar air terminal will complement Changi by offering services with more affordable flight options from Singapore to several destinations – including Peninsular Malaysia and neighbouring Sumatra – through the establishment of more turboprop airlines.

From Firefly’s perspective, there is certainly great hope that its flights from Subang can increase up to 10 times a day and hit a target of 7,500 passengers per week.

Firefly’s appeal has also been its location in Subang and the codeshare of MH and FY, with access to two airports both in Klang Valley and in Singapore.

Equally attractive is how it takes no more than 12 minutes from the car drop-off bay to stepping through the aircraft door at both terminals.

Then, there is the Enrich points for FY passengers to redeem when they travel, which can also be used to earn flights on MH.

On the Singapore side, Firefly is now able to target the North Singapore catchment area, just like it has managed to attract the affluent population of Petaling Jaya, Subang, Shah Alam and Klang.

But convenience apart, the resumption of flights will lead to stronger economic trade and tourism for the country, especially with Visit Malaysia Year targeted for next year.

The number of Singaporean arrivals was 10.62 million in 2018 and we certainly want these figures to reflect more than just Johor as an entry point.

But we would also want to see Chinese tourists coming to Malaysia from Singapore, to be in the Klang Valley.

Almost three million tourists from China visited Malaysia last year, making them the largest group after Singapore and Indonesia (3,3 million) to enter the country, followed by those from Thailand (1.9 million) and Brunei (1.38 million)

Visitors from the three countries formed the bulk of tourist arrivals into the country in 2018.

Chinese tourist arrivals to Malaysia recorded an overwhelming increase from 2.2 million visitors in 2017 to almost three million last year.

The number of Indian tourists grew from 552,000 in 2017 to 600,000 last year, while the number of South Korean tourists increased by 30% from 484,528 in 2017 to 600,016 in 2018.

Besides Subang, the 12-year-old Firefly has the potential to eventually grow to other locations in Peninsular Malaysia and over time, will introduce a connection service that will provide better access across Malaysia.

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