Singapore’s new Capital Route Questions

Singapore Airlines is launching service from Singapore to Canberra, Australia with continuing, fifth freedom rights to Wellington, New Zealand. This will be the only international route for Canberra (two routes, really) which takes the country out of a very rare group (I’m not actually sure there are other members, assuming the country has airports at all) of countries where the capital has no international air service.

The big question is, Why? How will the carrier fill seats (profitably) on the flight?

Singapore Airlines will be connecting Canberra and Wellington, the only international service at the Australian capital
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

The flight from Singapore to Canberra is comparable in length to that of Sydney or Melbourne. Each of those cities has a population near 4 million people; Canberra doesn’t reach a tenth of that with its 356,000 residents. Wellington is even smaller at around 200,000 residents. And that flight is 1,400 miles long. It is roughly the equivalent population/distance as flying between Tampa and Des Moines or Lincoln. It is a questionable route in many ways.

Sure, there might be some cargo action at play. But probably not too much. And the flight times will almost certainly require staging a crew in Canberra (fly SIN-CBR, overnight, CBR-WLG-CBR, overnight, CBR-SIN). That adds costs to the setup. This one has me scratching my head quite a bit.

The 4x weekly service starts in September; tickets go on sale this weekend.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Israel doesn’t have a airport in Jerusalem but TLV is only a 25 minute drive from the capital

    1. Israel also has the added bonus of mixed international recognition of the capital between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

      Palau is another example where the capital is Ngerulmud but the airport is Koror. It is 20 minutes away and on the same island so easily could be considered the airport of the capital.

  2. I remember when United was duking it out with other U.S. carriers for a coveted route to China, with its “capital-to-capital” IAD-PEK service. I guess this one is this capital-to-capital-to-capital?

  3. I guess this is one way to differentiate yourself from EK on the Kangaroo route. Direct one-plane-change service to Europe vs having to hop up to SYD or AKL. Pretty thin, though…

  4. While it’s true the population of the ACT is relatively small – it’s about the same as Nice (France). And when including adjacent communities in New South Wales increase the passenger catchment considerably – to something more comparable to Halifax (Canada). So on its face, direct international air-service (in particular supported by the tagflight to Wellington) shouln’t be that surprising.

    What is more – it’s a very particular population, with a large proportion of federal civil servants, university students/faculty, and other demographics that are more likely to travel internationally for professional, as well as personal reasons.

    I say: good on ’em.

    1. The CBR side makes a tiny sliver of sense to me. The CBR-WLG flight is what I really just don’t understand.

  5. I think that the CBR-WLG portion will be a steal away from VA, QF and NZ for a direct service to the wellington capital. More than likely there will be 5th Freedom rights across the tasman (like just about everyone else) so the CBR-WLG portion will be an easy sell with the only flight out of CBR to NZ. With *A connections on the NZ side, it surely has to be a win?

    1. It absolutely has 5th freedoms so it will carry local passengers. I’m just not convinced there are many of them on the route.

  6. The 5th freedom traffic will be there, not huge, but maybe a few people a flight.

    The catchment area for Wellington airport as an international airport is bigger than you state. Yes, Wellington City is about 200,000, but the metro area is close to 400,000 and there are more than half a million within driving distance. Compared to the option of transiting Auckland or Sydney, what this service is offering is same plane service to Singapore. It has some of the same logic as the EK service from CHC to SYD, or the EK services from AKL to BNE, MEL and SYD.

    The route could still fail, but given the international traffic out of both cities to Europe and Asia and the way in which this spreads the risk and maximizes the aircraft utilization, it has a better chance of succeeding than other options for Asia connections out of these cities.

    Taking off in a lightly loaded 772 at WLG could be a pretty awesome avgeek experience, that’ll add a few people to each flight 🙂

  7. Time will tell if it’s a success – as these are not huge markets by any stretch of the imagination. However a few points to consider

    – Canberra and Wellington metro areas both have over 400,000 residents. The catchment area for Canberra International Airport is over 900,000
    – Currently these people have to fly to either SYD or MEL to fly to NZ, Asia or onto Europe. And Singapore is the #2 most flown route from Sydney and NZ is the #1 destination for Australians
    – Canberra has the highest per capita income of Any Australian city, and skews heavily educated with federal government, international diplomats and international students
    – Canberra and Wellington are both national capitals and there is a LOT of trade between Australia and NZ – lots of politicians will fly this route
    – Canberra Airport recently has been upgraded to one of the best airports in Australia -and the government, city and ACT has been lobbying for 18 years to get international service
    -85% of Singaporean tourists re-visit Australia

  8. As Russell says, Singaporeans are regular revisitors and travel agents say they are looking for non-SYD/MEL/OOL destinations. While many Australians might view Canberra as a bit boring, there is plenty to see and do around the city and surrounds. It is also closer to Australia’s ski fields than any other airport. An easy connection on to Wellington, without the need to transfer to a NZ narrow body would also have to be appealing over the current flights into New Zealand if WLG was your final destination.

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