Singapore Airlines Cancels Their “Capital Express” Route To Canberra & Wellington

As of September 2016, Singapore Airlines launched an interesting “Capital Express” route, from Singapore to Canberra to Wellington (connecting Singapore to the capitals of Australia and New Zealand). The flight was operated 4x weekly using a Boeing 777-200.

Singapore Airlines was getting some indirect subsidies from the Australian government for the route. I was skeptical of whether the route would ever make money, especially given that no other airline even operates a flight between Canberra and Wellington. I was raked over the coals for daring to question the sustainability of the route (as usual). A couple of my favorites:

  • “Learn some geography instead of giving Americans a bad name by further perpetuating the stereotype of them being geographically illiterate.”
  • “Lucky, I’d wager your ‘hard time’ understanding this decision shows your lack of knowledge into the market.”

In fairness, I expect to be called out on every post, though in some cases it’s rewarding when you can go back and reread some of the comments.

Guess what, guys? Singapore Airlines is discontinuing their Capital Express flight as of April 30, 2018, about 18 months after it launched.

But don’t worry, Singapore Airlines isn’t completely discontinuing service to Canberra or Wellington. Their new route structure is much more logical.

Here’s what they’re doing:

Singapore Airlines is adding a triangle flight to Canberra

As of May 1, 2018, Singapore Airlines will be adding a triangle flight from Singapore to Sydney to Canberra to Singapore. This flight will operate with the following schedule, using a Boeing 777-300ER:

SQ288 Singapore to Sydney departing 10:30AM arriving 8:10PM
SQ288 Sydney to Canberra departing 9:20PM arriving 10:20PM
SQ288 Canberra to Singapore departing 11:15PM arriving 5:15AM (+1 day)

The flight from Sydney to Canberra covers a distance of just 147 miles. Since Singapore Airlines won’t have the ability to sell seats exclusively on the domestic sector, I suspect this one-way flight will be fairly empty, though at least Singapore Airlines can maintain service to Australia’s capital, presumably at a much lower cost than just operating a roundtrip flight directly from Singapore.

With this route they’ll be able to capitalize on the (presumably) fairly high yield traffic between Singapore and Canberra (due to the flight being nonstop in one direction), while still selling seats between Sydney and Singapore to fill up the plane.

Singapore Airlines is adding a tag flight to Wellington

As of May 3, 2018, Singapore Airlines will operate 4x weekly flights from Singapore to Wellington via Melbourne. Obviously there’s a sizable demand between Singapore and Melbourne (Singapore Airlines operates multiple daily flights in the market), and they’ll be able to sell seats between Melbourne and Wellington, which is a market that’s bigger than Canberra to Wellington.

The flight will operate with the following schedule, using a Boeing 777-200ER:

SQ247 Singapore to Melbourne departing 7:45PM arriving 5:10AM (+1 day)
SQ247 Melbourne to Wellington departing 7:00AM arriving 12:20PM

SQ248 Wellington to Melbourne departing 1:45PM arriving 3:30PM
SQ248 Melbourne to Singapore departing 4:50PM arriving 10:45PM

Bottom line

While the concept of a “Capital Express” flight sounded nice, clearly the numbers didn’t work out for Singapore Airlines. This new route structure seems to make a lot more sense. Singapore Airlines can continue to serve both Canberra and Wellington with less downside, given that they have no problems filling planes to Sydney and Melbourne — Singapore Airlines should be able to sell a good number of seats on the flight between Melbourne and Wellington, and with the triangle flight to Canberra, they’ll have no trouble largely filling the plane with people traveling between Sydney and Singapore.

The one thing being lost is the flight between Canberra and Wellington, which was the whole point of the “Capital Express.” As was the case from the beginning, I’m not surprised to see it go, given that Air New Zealand, Qantas, etc., don’t even operate a significantly smaller plane between the two airports.

Are you surprised to see Singapore Airlines discontinue the Capital Express?

Comments

  1. Lucky, SQ288 will operate as a triangle route SIN-SYD-CBR-SIN and it will be a new flight (the fifth daily) from SIN to SYD. You might want to correct the timings for this flight in your post. It should be:

    SIN-SYD 1030 – 2010
    SYD-CBR 2120 – 2220
    CBR – SIN 2315 – 0515+1

  2. Are those Canberra flight times right? Would they need three planes to handle this? The flight leaves Canberra when the one plane arrives, then a third departs Sydney at the same time the Canberra flight arrives?

    SQ288 Singapore to Sydney departing 10:30AM arriving 8:10PM
    SQ288 Sydney to Canberra departing 9:20PM arriving 10:20PM

    SQ288 Canberra to Sydney departing 10:20PM arriving 11:15PM
    SQ288 Sydney to Singapore departing 11:15PM arriving 5:15AM (+1 day)

  3. Well this is all wrong. It will be an additional 5th daily flight to Singapore and it will operate in a triangle rout.

  4. @Josh Is it me or is the number of critical ***holes who weigh in every time increasing? It used to just be ‘oh Lucky thanks for writing this’ or ‘oh Lucky i’d Like to see another SQ F review’. Do the Russians get paid to troll AVgeek posts now too?

    Thanks Lucky – I was considering booking this for November but I guess that settled that option for me!

  5. Hi lucky
    Can you fix the aircraft type on the SIN-SYD-CBR-SIN? According to the airlines route the new triangular flight will be operated by an 777-300ER. Singapore airlines has both 777-300 and 777-300ER but the interior is very different. 777-300 features a less desirable product and it only have 3 cabins. 777-300ER features 4cabins and a newer product.

  6. Lucky, you in a rush? Your post still has errors…:

    “SQ288 Singapore to Sydney departing 10:30AM arriving 8:10PM
    SQ288 Sydney to Canberra departing 9:20PM arriving 10:20PM
    SQ288 Sydney to Singapore departing 11:15PM arriving 5:15AM (+1 day)”

    The last leg should be departing from Canberra, not Sydney.

  7. They’ll likely be selling tix SIN-CBR, and SYD-SIN meaning the SYD-CBR route for this flight will be full of people either on the first leg of their trip out of SYD or the last leg of their trip to CBR. Silkair does a similar flight to Luang Prabang via Vientianne where there’s a mix of passengers.

  8. One thing to add as well: the Canberra stop is an interesting workaround to the fact that SYD has very early curfews, I believe closing at around 10 or so p.m., which has until now made a nighttime SYD-SIN service pretty difficult without having it arrive at 3 or so AM.

  9. Also I can confirm it is a 777-300ER for the route; its listed as such on SQ’s website when you try to book it.

  10. I’m not sure why you’ve made this sound like a negative.

    CBR has gone from 3/4 x weekly to a daily flight, on a bigger plane with better on-board product. Plus Sydney gains by getting a late departure to Singapore.

    Unlike Qatar’s upcoming service, Singapore doesn’t have to service Canberra. They can fly to Sydney all they want. So there must be some level of desire / demand.

    Wellington doesn’t lose out as its maintaining its current level of service.

    Would be interested to see your source for the Australian Government subsidising the flight.

  11. @ Hutch — I’m not trying to make it sound like a negative. It’s a positive, because the airline actually has a chance of turning a profit. The “negative” here is that the flight between Canberra and Wellington is being cut.

  12. @CR Sydney’s curfew is 11pm.

    If I recall correctly, Emirates is the last airline to be fined for breaching curfew. Probably before they started worrying about money.

  13. @Lucky – fair enough. A few airlines have been pulling out of Australia – NZ flights recently, so not too shocked to see SQ couldn’t make a 777 over the ditch from CBR work.

    Loads out of CBR to Singapore have been decent to my knowledge. Not enough for a daily service without Sydney tag I suspect.

    But there will be a time for CBR to NZ flights (but on a narrow-body and probably to Auckland)

  14. @Morgan
    You are right, but it’s not exactly the same.

    Qatar is doing DOH-SYD-CBR-SYD-DOH. This is more than probable, purely to allow Qatar extra traffic rights into Sydney. The day Qatar gets enough traffic rights, to cover the SYD/MEL/BNE flights they want, I’d expect them to pull the plug on CBR.

    SQ is not restricted. They can fly as much as they want into SYD.

  15. @vonRichthofen

    I agree. There’s no place for trolls when important avgeek business needs to be discussed!

    Although the Canberra flight to Wellington is no longer, still good news about the new routes including via MEL. Thanks Lucky.

  16. The biggest complaint in the NZ market was the use of the regional business class product on route. Even the most die hard SQ fans preferred a simple connection in AKL and a real long haul business product

  17. The WLG link is subsidised by Wellington City Council, I suspect it will be dropped when the subsidy contract runs out. There is ample competition on the WLG-MEL route, and as the service still has inferior product compared to the AKL/CHC-SIN services, the premium WLG market is likely to still prefer flying via AKL/SIN.

  18. It’s too bad about the WLG to CBR route, as SQ advertised a ton in Wellington about the route and sponsored carts and events in the airport. Although it got WLG officials excited, it definitely didn’t have much demand, and even though there is a good amount of competition already flying to Melbourne, I’m sure people will want to fly SQ.

  19. I did question you at the time lucky, but more on the sustainability of the Singapore – Canberra leg. I agree the Wellington tag seems odd. Wellington and Canberra while capitals – are not huge markets in themselves. Even with the political ties between AU and NZ – I never felt much demand for that leg.

    Canberra is not a huge city – but has a catchment area of 900,000 – and is AU’s 8th busiest airport. They have been lobbying hard for about a decade to get international service. Aussies go to Singapore and on to dozens of Asian and European cities in droves – so I do think Canberra is kinda an untapped market in terms of a flight to get those 900,000 people or so a non stop to Asia and on to Europe.

    Look up Canberra Airport too – it’s perhaps the best Airport in Australia.

    Not sure how the Qatar flight to Doha will go.

    More surprising to me is that Qantas, Jetstar, Air NZ or Virgin have not tried to launch a service to Auckland. I’m sure that would have larger demand than Wellington.

    This also brings the world class SQ First Class to Canberra – which is pretty cool for a smaller market

  20. Pls correct me if I am wrong, but this is like the QF flights to NYC, where passengers can stopover at LAX, then board the QF flight from LAX to JFK at a later date?

    Similarly, SQ passengers can stopover at SYD, then take the SQ flight to CBR and stop over there again, before flying back to SIN from CBR.

    (This will the be the domestic F class route within Australia, but you must be flying to SIN with SQ to enjoy this flight.)

  21. I wonder why there can’t be one 737 flight between the two capitals. Probably because there is not enough competition. SQ doesn’t have such a plane but airlines in NZ and Oz do.

  22. Wow. I have an Aeroplan award booking in May on the WLG-CBR flight. They hadn’t emailed about this change. Thanks to you I am able to start the process of figuring out what to do instead. Do you know whether SYQ 288, SYD-CBR, will be sold by itself by SYQ? I tried on their website (and on Aeroplan’s award booking engine), and right now that doesn’t seem possible. Annoyingly, Aeroplan won’t book me onto a non partner airline to get to CBR.

  23. The real value of the SYD-SIN via CBR is that they now have a night time departure from SYD. Due to early closing, it wasn’t possible to fly from SYD to SIN at night, instead I would go SYD-MEL on QF and then connect to MEL-SIN. This is a much better connection.

  24. the subsidies for the “capital” express were in fact subsidized in several areas , the Wellington City Council and the Wellington Regional Council paid several million to assist in getting what was a vital start to the route. there is no pleasure in proving right or wrong but even me as a Wellingtonian could see that wlg-cbr and vice versa would struggle to fill the numbers of seats ( its hardly a “destination” no disrect to CBR but what it has done is established a beachhead against the bullshit going on here where we have to transit 95% of the time through AKL. we need access to asia/europe and CBR was a start.
    you are righ MEL is a much better triangle for sure and i can see this being “more” succesful but you watch the fares drop as a 777-200 4 times a week adds a whole lot of seats. I for one say our subsidy was well spent , many say not but as the second largest city and the capital we need to move on .

  25. Will this flight actually operate as SQ288 on all three sectors? Wouldn’t if become confusing having SQ288 as a departure AND an arrival into SIN? I’m not aware of an identical flight number being used for departing and arriving flights other than, for example, when QF operates day trips overflying Antarctica. These fights of course don’t stop anywhere en route. Just wondering.

  26. Many regional airports have been pushing for international flights, including Canberra, Golden Coast, even Hobart. With Sydney at or near full capacity, and with a curfew that can never be lifted, Chinese airlines are looking at the possibility of going regional as an entry to the Australian market.
    Perhaps Tasmania (aka “Tassie”) could get something. HBA has had the single runway extended to accommodate larger jets. The problem for the booming tourism ( mostly domestic , Chinese , North American, SEA, UK, Japan ) is limited accommodation options ( the quality is *OK* but rates are insanely high because of shortage). It will be boosted by a number of new hotels over the next 2 years, including Hyatt, Crowne Plaza and Starwood LC).

  27. Wellington spent a fortune extending its runway south so it could take at least some longer range variants of the 777; it has in the past been able to take Air NZ DC-8s and 767s, plus the Qantas 747SPs but not fully loaded triple 7s. The city has been keen to attract more international flights, avoiding the need to transit via Auckland, hence the city and regional subsidies for the SQ service noted above.
    With EK yanking the three daily Dubai services to/from Auckland via SYD, MEL and BNE in favour of two direct DXB-AKL-DXB flights, as you noted recently, a lot of well priced, three class, trans-Tasman seats will no longer be available.

    So I guess SQ’s new service to Singapore, without the need to transit via AKL, will go down well in Wellingtown.

  28. a little surprised but good luck with the new via melbourne service.i cannot believe though these are the same old 777’s adelaide got from september 2001 to may 2009 prior to us getting the upgrades to the a330 in 2009 though.scheduling works out well though.in fact i was this close to be put on the new sq247 singapore to melbourne connecting onto a virgin australia flight onto adelaide coming home from munich later this year had i not already booked with qatar already.outbound was direct adelaide to singapore to frankfurt on singapore airlines connecting onto budapest with lufthansa.

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