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Ultra-long-haul “unlikely to be major trend”

Ultra-long-haul routes are unlikely to be huge, experts say, while low-cost carriers will continue to be reluctant to break into long-haul.

With Qantas and Singapore Airlines launching or resuming several ultra-long-haul routes, it seems as though new and more efficient aircraft types may facilitate more direct links halfway around the world in the future.

Not so, a panel of experts opined in a recent Routes Asia debate. Ultra-long-haul routes are unlikely to become a major trend, due to a lack of supporting markets.

The panel at Routes Asia 2019 in Cebu, Philippines, on March 10 included John Checketts, Fiji Airways’ general manager for network planning and strategy. Qantas’ recently launched route between Perth and London will prove to be an exception not a rule, he said.

“There’s a limited number of markets where it can work with the non-stop long-haul service,” he said.

Boeing’s regional director of network and fleet strategy, Neil Hathni, agreed, saying that the only markets where it could work are those where passengers are prepared to pay the premium demanded in return for the convenience of a direct flight.

Low-cost long-haul?
All of the panellists agreed that low-cost carriers would have a hard time breaking into the long-haul market in Asia, as conditions remain the same there as in the rest of the world.

On a flight lasting ten hours or more, comfort becomes an issue and travellers are prepared to pay an extra $100 to ensure they get it on a legacy carrier, said Jay L Lingeswara, head of commercial strategy and planning for the Vietnamese LCC VietJet.

The move by legacy carriers to compete with LCCs by unbundling their product, creating new options like basic economy, has also made life harder for budget carriers, Checketts added.

“This was a brilliant move by the legacy carriers,” he said. “LCCs are going to have a much more difficult time taking share.”

In the long-haul sector, any future rises in the cost of fuel will again impact low-cost carriers more than their legacy rivals, said Carmelo Arcilla, executive director at the Philippines’ Civil Aeronautics Board – a fact that will prevent LCCs from entering long-haul too extensively.

Routes Asia, the only route development event dedicated to the Asia Pacific region, is taking place in Cebu on March 10-12, attracting around 800 delegates.

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