Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A380 new suites. (Singapore Airlines/File)
Singapore Airlines Ltd., the first carrier to put a double bed in its cabins, is spending $850 million to refit all its Airbus SE A380 jets as it fights neck and neck with airlines such as Emirates for passengers paying top dollar.
The flag carrier on Thursday unveiled its first major overhaul across cabins of its Airbus SE A380s since 2007, when it became the first to fly the double-decker aircraft. For top-end customers, Singapore Air has cut the number of suites to six from 12, allowing more space for a separate flat bed and fully adjustable seat with leather upholstery by Italy’s Poltrona Frau.
Singapore Air is fending off intensifying competition particularly from Middle Eastern airlines like Etihad Airways PJSC and Emirates, which in August introduced a yacht cabin-inspired lounge on its own A380s and is set to unveil a new first class cabin this month. The Singapore carrier’s interiors revamp -- four years in the making -- comes amid a review of its entire business as the money earned from flying passengers per kilometer hovers around eight-year lows and it prepares to report quarterly results next week.
“We do not compare ourselves with competitors,” Singapore Air Chief Executive Officer Goh Choon Phong said at a briefing to unveil the new cabins. “We developed the product with the customer in mind.”
Airlines have been trying to outdo each other when it comes to pampering the upscale business traveler. In addition to the bed and leather chair in the new Singapore Air suites, there’ll be a full-sized wardrobe and double bathrooms, one of which has a sit-down vanity counter. But they won’t have an in-flight shower like what Etihad offers in its Residence suites.
Neither will there be a common lounge for premier customers, like on Emirates flights. Singapore Air says feedback indicates passengers don’t want a bar, but more private space and convenient storage.
“SIA’s cabin was due for a refresh because the last time they really did a lot of stuff around the suites was in 2007,” said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of aviation publication FlightGlobal. “It’s important for airlines to keep on improving.”
The changes will be first introduced in five new super-jumbo planes Singapore Air will receive progressively from this year, starting with the Singapore-Sydney flight on Dec. 18. The airline also will retrofit 14 existing A380s with the new products starting late 2018, with a target for completion in 2020.
The new suites were designed by Pierrejean Design Studio, while the business class cabin was conceived by JPA Design of the U.K. Beds in the first two suites can be converted to a double bed for couples traveling together. Business-class passengers will have a 25-inch-wide seat that reclines directly into a full-flat bed of 78 inches, and the central divider can be fully lowered to form double beds.
Singapore Air -- the only Asian carrier to have flown the Concorde more than three decades ago -- posted a net loss in the quarter ended March. It rebounded to a profit of S$235.1 million ($173 million) in the three months ended June.
Predicting another challenging year, Singapore Air set up a dedicated office to conduct a wide-ranging review to transform the company and better position itself for sustainable growth, it said in May. Goh said in June that jobs could be eliminated, and two months later offered voluntary unpaid leave to cut costs.
It’s not the only one feeling the heat. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is also carrying out its biggest transformation plan in two decades, and said in May that it will cut 600 jobs at its Hong Kong head office as part of efforts to revive its fortunes.
While Singapore Air had been an industry trendsetter, such as being the first to provide free alcohol to economy-class passengers and headsets for in-flight entertainment in the 1970s, it has been less so in recent years. The airline’s last major offering was in May 2015, when it introduced a premium economy class and played catch up to Qantas Airways Ltd. and Cathay.
“There is an urgent need for SIA to move ahead of the competition again,” said Corrine Png, founder and chief executive officer of Crucial Perspective Pte. in Singapore.
— With assistance by Melissa Cheok