Singapore Airlines suspends direct flights to Canberra as COVID-19 further hampers aviation industry

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Singapore Airlines has announced it will no longer fly direct from Singapore to Canberra, even once coronavirus restrictions ease.

The airline scrapped its Canberra to Wellington leg in 2018, just 18 months after its maiden flight.

That decision was made after lacklustre passenger numbers in the early months, and a review of the route.

Now, Singapore Airlines has indefinitely suspended all flights to the capital.

The airline will also halt flights to between Melbourne and Wellington, the replacement to the Canberra-Wellington leg.

The company cited a lack of demand as the reason behind the decision.

“Unfortunately the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation industry has led to Singapore Airlines having to make the very difficult decision to suspend services to Canberra and Wellington,” the statement read.

“This decision is an extremely difficult one considering the dedication and commitment of our staff, and the hard work put in with our partners over the past few years … but it is necessary as we expect travel demand to remain stunted for a long period of time.

“We will carefully review our plans going forward, and make adjustments to our network to meet the changing demand patterns.

“Australia and New Zealand remain key markets for the SIA group and we remain firmly committed to ensuring both countries remain connected through our Singapore Hub.”

Canberra’s last direct international flight

The decision means there will no longer be any direct international flights out of the national capital.

Qatar still operates a flight between Canberra and Doha, but the service runs via Sydney.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who has long campaigned for Canberra to be a major international transport hub, said Singapore Airlines’ decision was expected given the impact of coronavirus on the tourism and aviation sectors.

“This suspension came as part of a broader announcement from Singapore Airlines that they are also laying off over 4,000 people from their workforce,” Mr Barr said.

“Airlines are having to make extremely difficult choices to ensure their long-term survival as it will be many years before any normality returns to international travel.”

Canberra Airport’s head of aviation Michael Thomson agreed that the aviation industry had been “decimated” by the COVID-19 pandemic and said the announcement came “as no great surprise”.

“We’ve enjoyed a successful partnership with Singapore Airlines since our first flight on September 21, 2016, and remain hopeful that this service will resume once the demand for international travel returns,” he said.

“Canberrans hold a lot of affection towards Singapore Airlines and we look forward to welcoming them back to Canberra at some time in the future.”

Government hopes route will resume ‘when the time is right’

Canberra Business Chamber chief executive Graham Catt said a major airline withdrawing from the capital should be seen as a warning sign.

“I think we need to be acting very quickly, and we need to be sitting down with government and the business sector and thinking about what this means and what specific actions we need to be taking,” he said.

Singapore was the first airline to offer regular international flights to and from Canberra since 2004, after Asia-Pacific’s short-lived service to Fiji.

The Singapore-Canberra service had been running four times per week since 2016 before the pandemic hit.

The ACT Government said it hoped to see the service restart in the future.

“We are grateful for the fantastic relationship we have built with Singapore Airlines over the last five years and we have proven that the business case works,” Mr Barr said.

“When the time is right we look forward to working with Canberra Airport and Singapore Airlines to return international flights to Canberra.”

Canberrans will still be able to fly non-direct to Singapore under codeshare arrangements with Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand.

By Selby Stewart and Tom Lowrey (Original ABC Article)