Singapore Airlines finds premium economy a tougher sell on new non-stop US flights

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900ULR prepares for take-off. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Singapore Airlines finds premium economy a tougher sell on new non-stop US flights

  • The carrier last month resumed after five years the world’s longest commercial flight
  • It represents a major expansion in the US market for Singapore Airlines

SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines is facing no problem selling business-class tickets on its ultra-long non-stop flights to the United States but is having to price premium economy seats very attractively, a senior executive said on Wednesday.
The carrier last month resumed after five years the world’s longest commercial flight, an almost 19-hour non-stop journey from Singapore to New York.
The airline ordered seven new ultra-long-range twin-engine Airbus SE A350-900ULRs fitted with just 67 business class and 94 premium economy seats for those flights and for non-stop services to Los Angeles and San Francisco. These flights have no economy class seats.
It represents a major expansion in the US market for Singapore Airlines and a test of whether the carrier can charge the 20 percent price premium that travel industry data shows is typical for ultra-long non-stop services due to their popularity with time-sensitive business travelers.
Singapore Airlines Executive Vice President Commercial Mak Swee Wah said there was existing demand for business class which he expected would continue to pick up.
For premium economy, however, he said some markets were not “entirely familiar” with the product, which offers more leg room and other amenities than economy class.
“I think we need to continue to stimulate and encourage the market to consider this product, initially with very attractive pricing, but eventually I think people will see that even at prices which we offer it is a good product to purchase because it is a very long flight,” he said at an analyst and media briefing.
His comments came after Singapore Airlines reported on Tuesday an 81 percent plunge in second-quarter net profit, hurt by higher fuel prices, lower airfares and non-cash losses at its part-owned Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd.
Yields, a proxy for ticket prices, fell 2.2 percent in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, failing to help offset the impact of a 24 percent rise in fuel prices.
Singapore Airlines is offering premium economy fares as low as S$1,698 ($1,230.17) return from Singapore to New York for weekday travel over part of the peak Christmas travel period, according to its website.
That is in line with economy class fares from premium rivals like Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Dubai-based Emirates that require a stop and a longer travel time, according to a Reuters search on Expedia.
When it previously flew to New York and Los Angeles non-stop on four-engined A340-500 jets that used more fuel, it had initially offered both “executive economy” and business class but later switched to all business class. Those flights were abandoned in 2013 when high fuel prices made them uneconomic.
A Singapore Airlines spokesman said on Thursday that the airline constantly reviewed its cabin configurations.
“However, at this point we are confident we have the right balance with business class and premium economy class seating on our A350-900ULRs, and there are no plans to change it,” he said.


Dubai real estate market recovery to be seen as of 2022: S&P

Updated 20 February 2019
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Dubai real estate market recovery to be seen as of 2022: S&P

  • The outlook on property was part of a challenging assessment of the credit-worthiness of the emirate
  • S&P was generally comfortable with the credit ratings of the emirate’s banking system

DUBAI: S&P Global, the ratings agency, painted a grim picture for the real estate sector in Dubai, with a meaningful recovery in property prices expected only after 2022.
At a presentation to journalists in the Dubai International Financial Center, S&P analyst Sapna Jagtiani said that under the firm’s “base case scenario,” the Dubai real estate market would fall by between 5 and 10 percent this year, roughly the same as the fall in 2018, which would bring property prices to the levels seen at the bottom of the last cycle in 2010, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
“On the real estate side we continue to have a very grim view of the market. While we expect prices to broadly stabilize in 2020, we don’t see a meaningful recovery in 2021. Relative to the previous recovery cycle, we believe it will take longer time for prices to display a meaningful recovery,” she said.
S&P’s verdict adds to several recent pessimistic assessments of the Dubai real estate market. Jagtiani said that conditions in the other big UAE property market, in Abu Dhabi, were not as negative, because “Abu Dhabi never did ramp up as much in 2014 and 2015 as Dubai.” S&P does not rate developers in the capital.
She added that a “stress scenario” could arise if government and royal family related developers — such as Emaar Properties, Meraas, Dubai Properties and Nakheel — which have attractive land banks and economies of scale, continue to launch new developments.
“In such a scenario, we think residential real estate prices could decline by 10-15 percent in 2019 and a further 5-10 percent in 2020. In this case, we expect no upside for Dubai residential real estate prices in 2021, as we expect it will take a while for the market to absorb oversupply,” she said.
S&P recently downgraded Damac, one of the biggest Dubai-based developers, to BB- rating, on weak market prospects.
However, Jagtiani said that, despite the “significant oversupply” from existing projects, several factors should held stabilize the market: Few, if any, major product launches; improved affordability and “bargain hunting” by bulk buyers; and a resurgence of Asian, especially Chinese, investor interest in the market.
Jagtiani also said that government measures such as new ownership and visa regulations and reduction in government fees could help prevent prices falling more sharply, as well as “increased economic activity related to Dubai Expo 2020, which is expected to attract about 25 million visitors to the emirate.”
The outlook on property was part of a challenging assessment of the credit-worthiness of the emirate. “In our view, credit conditions deteriorated in Dubai in 2018, reducing the government’s ability to provide extraordinary financial support to its government related entities (GREs) if needed,” S&P said in a report. “The negative outlook on Dubai Electricity and Water
Authority (DEWA) partly reflects our concern that a real estate downturn beyond our base case could out increased pressure on government finances,” the report said.
It pointed out that about 70 percent of government revenues come from non-tax sources, including land transfer and mortgage registration fees, as well as charges for housing and municipality liabilities, as well as dividends from real estate developers it controls, like Emaar and Nakheel.
S&P was generally comfortable with the credit ratings of the emirate’s banking system, which has an estimated 20 percent exposure to real estate. “Banks in the UAE tend to generally display a good level of profitability and capitalization, giving them a good margin to absorb a moderate increase in risks,” the report said.