Singapore Airlines unit Scoot bucks trend to sound bullish on China demand

(March 2): Singapore Airlines Ltd’s low-cost carrier Scoot is bullish on air travel from China bouncing back as it reintroduces flights to the mainland, despite industry worries about weak demand in world’s second-largest aviation market.

“China is an important market for Scoot,” the airline’s chief executive officer Leslie Thng told Bloomberg Television in an interview on Thursday (March 2). “China will further help Scoot to go back up to pre-Covid capacity and beyond pre-Covid capacity.”

Thng’s comments come even as some other airlines and industry groups complain about weak demand in China off the bat of an abrupt, chaotic reopening that caught airlines and airports off guard, mandatory Covid testing requirements for passengers travelling to China and a slow visa process.

Spring Airlines Co, China’s largest budget carrier, said this week that international air travel remains weak and it’s operating at just 20% of pre-Covid levels, while Malaysia’s AirAsia X Bhd said it has only been able to sell enough tickets from China to fill just half of an aircraft’s seats.  

China will take at least a year to get back to air travel levels seen in pre-pandemic days, according to Subhas Menon, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. Philippine airline Cebu Air Inc has also said the budget carrier wasn’t seeing a massive demand rebound from China compared to other international markets, primarily due to administrative challenges, terming it what “seems to be two markets” given the difference between domestic and international demand.

Scoot is now operating about 25%-30% of its pre-Covid capacity to China, Thng said, increasing to about 60% by June and and as high as 90% by October.

Scoot plans to resume flights to and from China to accommodate travel demands in line with the further relaxation of border restrictions, it said in a statement last month. The airline will progressively increase total flights to China from 14 to 26 times weekly by stepping up flight frequencies to seven of its existing cities.

“Based on the 25-30% capacity that we’ve injected back into the system now, demand is still very strong,” Thng said on Thursday. “So we’re quite confident that demand will be returning back from China.”