Airline insights: Singapore Air Show – a window on the stars


During a recent trip to Singapore, I attended the 2016 Air Show. This premier event is held every two years in the Lion Capital and is billed as Asia’s largest Aerospace and Defense event. It certainly had its share of military brass in attendance, judging by the number of shiny medals glittering in the tropical sunlight. Airbus and Boeing were the big aircraft manufacturers present. As for the airlines, one airline brought three of its “star” aircraft. Qatar Airways, one of the fastest growing “Gulf” airlines, enjoys putting on a show, and its CEO, Al Baker, was on hand as master of ceremonies.

Among the aircraft on display were the Airbus A350 and A380, as well as the Gulfstream G650ER. I personally was invited onto the A350 and was able to witness his Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, welcoming Mr. Pang Kin Keong, the Permanent Secretary for Singapore’s Ministry of Transport. Al Baker personally pointed out every nook and cranny, demonstrating seat recline functions and lighting units, as if he was personally selling the aircraft to the Minister of Transport.

This personal involvement is what has made Qatar Airways one of the world’s top airlines, which it is today. It is consistently in an expansion mode, and the airline has pledged to launch 12 new routes each year until 2018.

From my perspective, based in Kuala Lumpur, I can only welcome the airline’s consistent record in creating an alternative to flying the European or Asian carriers when flying to Europe or the United States. With connecting times as low as one hour in Doha, along with state-of-the-art aircraft such as the A350, the Dreamliner, or the A380, the airline has carved out a niche for itself and has one up on its bigger rival, Emirates.

That is: Hammad International Airport. This ultra-modern, passenger-friendly hub, recently inaugurated in 2014, is exactly what a 21st century airport should be – a delight to spend time in, with an in-transit hotel, gourmet restaurants, and a giant teddy bear as a mascot.

Comparing the two airports, Dubai airport, one of the largest in the world in terms of passenger traffic, (capacity there is at 90 million) is just too congested. Walking through the airport at peak times is a veritable obstacle course, and runway delays are frequent. In all fairness, Hammad is new and has ample space for aircraft and passengers alike, making its anchor tenant, Qatar Airways, the most reliable in the world (according to travel site, Wanderbat) thanks to flight punctuality and its modern fleet.

Returning to my base in Kuala Lumpur, I caught up with Qatar Airways Country Manager, Emmanuel Oswald, who was bullish on traffic numbers for the airline and has noted an increase in outbound travel from Malaysia. On another note, Emirates Airlines has just inked a deal with Malaysia Airlines as a code-sharing partner. Oswald was realistic in his comments saying that “we will just have to wait and see how that plays out.”

The American big three carriers – American, Delta, and United – are all up in arms when it comes to the Gulf carriers’ incursion in its own territory. I find this ironical, as the United States, the bastion of free enterprise, were the inventors of the “open skies” agreements. Now that all three Gulf carriers fly massively to the United States, I kind of hope that this will incite the US airlines to up their service levels and stop complaining about the airlines that really know how to treat their passengers well.