Today Singapore Airlines celebrates its 30th anniversary on the Manchester-Singapore route

Back in 1986 SIA launched the route with a twice weekly B747-300ER service. Today it’s a daily service by B777-300ER which now goes via Munich.

At the time SIA’s Manchester service was a major development as the UK governmental restricted foreign airlines from operating air service to cities other than London.

It meant SIA became the first South East Asian airline to operate to a UK regional city. Traffic rights were only granted thanks to a lengthy lobbying campaign with the UK government.

And of course SIA was not simply about Singapore. SIA is a sixth-freedom airline and so many passengers from the North of England were using this airline to transit Singapore for elsewhere in Asia or Australasia.

That’s the positive news. On the negative side one might argue that SIA’s business in the North hasn’t expanded much since the Manchester route was launched. And for that you can blame the Gulf carriers all of whom are chasing the same transit market.

Back in 1986 both Etihad and Qatar Airways were unknown. Emirates (today’s largest international airline in terms of route mileage) was a humble regional airline with a handful of aircraft and routes.

So whereas SIA’s current daily service from Manchester might sound impressive to the uninitiated, its available capacity out of Manchester is small beer compared with its three Gulf rivals.

The latter operate multiple daily flights. Emirates alone flies three times a day with two of these services operated by A380 equipment.

True SIA’s B777-300ER is larger than the previous B777-200ER it replaced but a good number of passengers will be joining in Munich. It means that maybe only one third of the aircraft is filled ex-Manchester.

Initial warning signs for SIA appeared back in 2008. A combination of increased Gulf-airline competition plus the UK economic downturn prompted SIA to cut its then daily flight to a five times a week service. On the days when there was no service, SIA routed its Singapore-bound passengers via London Heathrow (using BA/Bmi for the domestic sector).

At the time it was believed to be the first time SIA (whose growth until then had been on an upwards curve) had reduced UK capacity.

By 2010, SIA’s Manchester service was down to thrice weekly flights. And some analysts suggested SIA might withdraw altogether from Manchester.

But then came the inspired decision to operate the route via Munich which allowed SIA to spread its risks. Initially flight frequency was five times a week but has now become daily.

What of the future? Airlines are cagey about discussing advance plans but SIA’s Manchester route appears to have settled down. Indeed one would expect a return to non-stop service in the coming years.

SIA has ordered several dozen wide-body A350s. These twin-jets are intended to replace the B777-200ERs on non-stop but less busy routes.

The A350s will initially serve Amsterdam and Dusseldorf and it can only be a matter of time before they are considered for Manchester too.

Alex McWhirter