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Scoot to spread wings on long-haul routes

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Long flights to be 'significant part' of its network

Low-cost carrier Scoot is planning to expand its long-haul routes to account for a "significant part" of its network.

It is gearing up to launch its first long-haul service, a Singapore-Athens flight, next month. But in the next two to three years, it could triple its long-haul offerings.

The Straits Times understands that Scoot is now seeking approval from the authorities in the US for a Singapore to Honolulu service, with a stop in Osaka. The service, which is expected to take about 14hr 30min in total, could be launched by year-end.

Mr Lee Lik Hsin, chief executive of Budget Aviation Holdings, which operates Scoot and Tigerair, declined to confirm this but said the carrier was not limiting itself to Europe.

He was speaking to the media as part of a trip by the Singapore Airlines subsidiary to collect its second Boeing 787 Dreamliner fitted with crew bunks - a requirement for long-haul operations - yesterday in Seattle, US.

At 11½ hours, Scoot's new route from Singapore to Athens tops its nine-hour Singapore-Jeddah service.

Scoot's earlier 787s, of which there are 12 planes, did not have crew rest areas because these are not required for flights of up to about 10½ hours.

Mr Lee said that while medium-haul routes will still account for about half of Scoot's network, long-haul routes will become a significant part of that network. Flying farther on budget fares is now economically viable, owing largely to lower fuel prices, he added.

The price of jet fuel has plunged by almost half, compared with three years ago. As a result, budget airlines are now exploring long-haul routes.

In September, low-cost carrier Norwegian will launch a Singapore-London service. The airline is also reportedly considering flights to Singapore from Paris, Barcelona and Oslo, the capital of Norway, and could also partner Asian budget airlines to expand its network in this region.

Norwegian and Scoot aim to follow in the footsteps of Jetstar and AirAsia X, which had relative success with budget long-haul routes in the region. Such moves, some analysts say, could also influence full-fare carriers to reduce their prices in the face of stiffer competition.

Mr Lee, however, warned that fares may not remain low if fuel prices rise. "If fuel prices go up, and we can, we try to charge higher fares, in order to still make the (long-haul) route viable," he said.

Mr Lee feels the move to merge Scoot and Tigerair into a single airline makes it stronger.

"We have a strong network in Asia, supported by the Tigerair A-320 flights. We are able to carry the passengers not just to Singapore but also to Bali, Phuket, and that capability is something we feel is not so easily replicated," he said.

Centre for Aviation analyst Brendan Sobie said that with more crew bunk-equipped planes on the way, Scoot will need to ramp up its long-haul offerings.

"Scoot needs to select and start selling long-haul routes quickly, or it will risk compromising efficiency by using long-haul aircraft on medium-haul operations," he said.

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