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Singapore Airlines is relaxed about the loss of first class on its new Airbus A350 routes, based on market trends and the high standard of its latest business class.
The advanced A350 jet, which joins the SQ fleet in January, counts business class as its most premium cabin – but it will largely replace older Boeing 777 jets fitted with the airline's previous generation first class at the pointy end.
This includes European routes such as Amsterdam, where the A350 will debut in April.
"But I don’t think passengers will miss the Boeing that much once the A350 flies to Amsterdam" suggests Tan Pee Teck, Singapore Airlines' Senior Vice President for Product & Services.
"The first class market is there but I think sales have been showing that it’s not a growing market, so first class product has to be targeted" on specific routes where there is demand, Tan told Australian Business Traveller.
"But business class is strong out of Europe in general, and with the margin of quality that’s being put into business class seats today – especially our seats – and the product getting better every year, it does put first class under threat."
"When we plan the aircraft configuration we look at the economics of the whole aeroplane" Tan explains.
"Sometimes you definitely have to keep first class if there’s a market for it, but I don’t think we’d keep first class just for the bragging rights at the end of the day (because) it’s a trade-off: if I have no first class, I have more business class."
"The bottom line is we’ve got to make money, and (most) customers are not willing to pay beyond a certain threshold."
However, Tan is quick to assure that Singapore Airlines has no intention of axing first class from its flagship jets such as the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A380 – indeed, the superjumbo is in line for all-new first class suites come 2017.
"We have many aircraft without first class," so the A350 is simply another addition to that subset of the SQ fleet, he points out.
"I would say that you would still need to maintain first class if you want to call yourself a ‘full service’ carrier, but even Qantas has only left it on their Airbus A380s."
Tan added that Airbus is trying to convince Singapore Airlines to order the larger Airbus A350-1000 which could have room for a small first class cabin.
"I know they have been trying to market the A350-1000 to us" Tan said.
Singapore Airlines expects to have at least three A350 jets in its fleet by April and 11 by year's end, out of a total of 63 orders and a further 20 options up its sleeve.
The aircraft will "replace the 777-200s and 777-300s first – but not the 777-300ER, the ERs still have a bit of life in them" Tan says, with the A350s also opening up new routes as the fleet grows in size.
"We’ll have a minimum of three or four A350 destinations in our first year."
"It has the range to do Europe quite easily non-stop, so we do see it replacing some of the long-haul routes and introducing new ones in the years ahead.... certainly North Asia and South West Pacific are potentially all on the cards."
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