WILL FIREFLY TAKE OFF AT SELETAR?
(May 24, 2019, Singapore) One of the things I have always loved about Firefly, a full-service point-to-point carrier and a full subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, is that it lands at small regional airports. When I was on board the inaugural flight between Changi International Airport and Terengganu, and then again to Kuantan and Koh Samui, I appreciated being in and out of the airport in minutes. There is the added advantage that the fleet is comprised of ATRs that carry 72 passengers, so line ups are short and your luggage arrives quickly. The exception to this was Changi Airport. No one complains about flying in or out of the large international airport as it is truly one of the world’s greats, but even flying to the Malaysian capital on Firefly landed you at the small and convenient Subang Airport, (officially Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport) eliminating the long drive from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
In December 2018, Firefly suspended its flights to Changi to move to Seletar Airport. The new terminal is like its counterpart in Subang, clean, modern and easy to navigate. However, technical issues resulted in the Firefly flights not being reinstated until April 21, 2019. “Quite a long time,” stated Firefly Chief Executive Officer Philip See (pictured above) at a press conference at Seletar on May 23. The move and the out time resulted in the carrier losing many of its once loyal passengers.
Firefly now operates six flights a day between Subang and Seletar (pictured above) but is only filling about 40% of its seats. Before the suspension it was flying at 65 – 70% capacity. Also, flights to other destinations have been suspended. “We first want to get the numbers up between Singapore and Subang before we look at adding more routes.” Those were great routes for leisure passengers to some of Malaysia’s great tropical beach destinations.
“It is nice to be at Seletar Airport,” stated Izra Azliana, Vice president Marketing & Communications. (pictured above left) “At Changi we were that cute little plane amongst all the big jets. Here we are the ‘talk of the town.’ We are the only airline at Seletar, so the convenience for passengers is excellent. From the time a passenger arrives at the airport to the time they get on the plane can be as little as 20 minutes.”
While being the only game in town can be a good thing, there are disadvantages as there are no other airlines to connect to at the terminal. If passengers do have an on-going flight, they need to get to Changi Airport. When one of the six flights arrives at Seletar there is a fleet of taxis waiting to move people whether they are going to Changi or anywhere on the island. It is a short walk, under a covered walkway, to the local bus that will take you to the MRT and other public buses. “We are working with the taxi companies, with Grab and GoJack to ensure that the terminal is well-serviced,” says the CEO.
Mr See says he does not regret making the decision to move from Changi. “It was the right move to make even though it has been difficult. Remember, I come from Malaysia Airlines, where we’ve had our stressful times, and I have learned how to work through challenges. The move has been worth it because the value proposition, especially for business travellers, is very good. Business travellers can take the early flight from either city, have two or three meetings, and be back home in the evening. Flying from KLIA to Changi Airport can take several hours while a Subang-Seletar trip takes under two hours,” Mr See pointed out. "It's a great route."
About 65% of Firefly passengers are business travellers and 35% are leisure travellers. "We need to re-engage our customers who went to other airlines, they didn’t stop flying, and say to them, 'Hey, try us again. You used to love us and actually the experience now is even better.'" he said.
The CEO’s main priority is to stabilise the current route which he envisions will take until August when they will evaluate the situation to see if they should add more flights between the cities or add new routes.
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