Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines, also known as Singapore International Airlines, has codes SQ (as per IATA), SIA (as per ICAO), and Singapore (as callsign) is the flag airline of Singapore, with its main hub at Changi Airport. Singapore Airlines is among the best airlines in the world, holding 5 stars in Skytrax's official ranking (2010a1), and showing very good reviews by passengers (2010b2), who have valued the quality of their journey highly (9/10), think the airline is good value for money (9/10), and, thus, would recommend it to other passengers (9/10).
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(Singapore Airlines' logo -embedded from Singapore Airlines on 23 April 2010) (Singapore Airlines' livery -embedded from Wikipedia on 23 April 2010) (Singapore Airlines' uniform -embedded from Wikipedia on 23 April 2010)

History of Singapore Airlines

Civil aviation in the Asia-Pacific region grew tremendously since the National Era which starts from 1945. The establishment of many jet aircrafts such as B707s created huge impact on the development of airline business within the aviation sector worldwide. With advances in jet-propulsion technology, it gave birth to modern airliners which we know today. Singapore International Airlines (SIA) is one of such example which developed during the National Era and successfully emerged as one of the top airliners of the world (Heracleous, Wirtz & Pangarkar 2006 [6]).

SIA is actually part of a Strategic Business Unit (SBUs) which is under SIA Group of Companies (Flouris & Oswald 2006 [5]). SIA Group of Companies operates in an aviation business model which has many other subsidiaries that supports the passenger core business (SIA) but generate more revenue from external clients. Since 1972, SIA has established a strong brand name in the industry and had a reputation of being a trend-setter and is an industrial bench-marker in service quality. It is the world’s most awarded airline and is also one of the four airlines which received a five-star rating from Skytrax. I will now focus the attention on the past glorious history of SIA during the 1960s (jet transport) till the 1980s (deregulation) as well as the impact SIA had made on the development of aviation.

SIA humble beginnings started in 1937, when Straits Steamship, Ocean Steamship and Imperial Airways registered Malayan Airways Ltd (MAL), the forerunner of SIA; even though operational history did not begin until 1947 (Allen, R. 1990 [3]).

On 1st May 1947, MAL first flight was in service using an Airspeed-Consul twin-engine aircraft. The aircraft can only accommodate five passengers with no flight-stewardess. The only refreshment at that time was a flask of iced-water. In such conditions, MAL grew steadily with extended networks and fleet changes into the Comet IV jets as well as the DC-3s (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). MAL gain profits within a year of service. By 1949, there were seven DC-3s and it also introduced in-flight services by air-stewardess. MAL air-hostess were laying the groundwork for a cabin service which became world famous.

MAL continue with its steady growth despite political issues which was occurring in Malaya. The Federation of Malaysia was officially born on 16th September 1963. Malayan Airways undertook a change of name to Malaysian Airways limited, by which retains its same initials MAL. MAL resign from IATA during that year. MAL focus on domestic as well as regional routes and expanded steadily which eventually serving twenty destinations (SIA Press kit 1989 [9]).

1964 saw another importance development. MAL opened a New-York office to encourage Americans to fly regional in Asia and the first ever bilateral agreement for air services with Australia was signed. The agreement was to allow MAL to fly to Australia and for Qantas to fly to Malaysia.

During 1965, Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia; the company was renamed as Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) in 1967. MSA was owned and represents the interest of both countries’ government. MSA flourished in the next few years. MSA expanded in terms of networks and its fleet size which increases to about 24 aircrafts in 1971. Jet aircraft orders such as the B707s and the addition with the introduction of the sarong kebayas uniform marks the start in the future of Singapore Airlines.

Despite MSA growth rate, the separate priorities of the Singapore and Malaysian Governments still caused problems. Malaysia wanted attention on domestic routes while Singapore was in favour of international routes (Allen, R. 1990 [3]).This disagreement marks the birth of Singapore Airlines.

During mid 1971, each nation had decided to have their individual national carrier. Malaysia Airline System (MAS) was formed as the national carrier for Malaysia, which aims to operate mainly on domestic/regional routes with a long term plan for international services. SIA was formed as the national carrier for Singapore which aims to operate on international routes. MAL assets were divided into two parts which MAS and SIA each took half (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). One key factor from this split will be the agreement of allowing SIA to receive all Boeing aircrafts, all agreements on international routes signed during MSA era as well as its computer-reservation systems used in overseas offices. These provide a head-start for SIA in terms of cost-saving in maintenance due to one manufacturer type (Flouris & Oswald 2006 [5]).

On 30th June 1972, SIA was officially launched. The airlines official colours would be rich yellow and mid-night blue, and its official logo would be a stylised bird. The first flight of SIA took off on 1st October 1972. The new airline had inherited not only a proud past but also an international network encompassing eighteen countries (SIA press kit 1989 [9]).

SIA was merely a new airline as compared to others, yet this ‘new’ player had proved to be very successful and its decision on its business model provided huge development in the aviation industry worldwide. I will now discuss on how SIA sets its mark in the market and how situations and factors influenced the development of aviation

Brand Reputation

SIA is among the few airlines which have a very strong and positive brand reputation (Doganis, R 1991 [4]). During 1972, SIA have put themselves in to a global approach by advertising the same advertisement in international media and overseas market with only languages differences (Heracleous, Wirtz & Pangarkar 2006 [6]). While other airlines during the 1970s kept changing their advertisement throughout the years, SIA did not implement any change. The focus will still be on the ‘Singapore Girl’, its motto ‘A Great Way to Fly’ and the ‘Latest Fleet’ concepts.

SIA advertising investments are heavy and are maintained even during industry downturns. Since its start of the campaign, the brand-building effort show tremendous success in the first few years which created a huge impact the aviation industry. SIA had gained the first-mover advantage (Flouris & Oswald 2006). SIA had become a pioneer in the aviation industry in terms of brand building. Such strategies were adopted by other airlines in the 1980s (Doganis, R 1991 [4]).

Of all SIA’s visible assets, the almost legendary ’Singapore Girl’ is perhaps best known in the aviation market (Allen, R 1990 [3]). During the early beginnings of MAL, stewardesses at that time were the foundation of such a unique feature which SIA continue and succeed. The ‘Singapore Girl’ image led to a new phrase of services for air transportation worldwide. For many people, ‘Singapore Girl’ is SIA. The unique features especially the sarong kebaya designed by French couturier Pierre Balmain in 1968 carried the indefinite image of the east into the Europeans hearts. SIA had adopted the sarong kebaya image from MAL since 1972 and it had never change since then (Lim, P. Y. 1979). Such well-designed uniforms created a huge impact on the other major airlines (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). The ‘Singapore Girl’ with her sarong kebaya has represented everything the airline holds in terms of services, warmth, friendliness and professionalism (SIA press kit 1989 [9]). This symbol affects most airlines in service at that time. It created a huge impact on airline advertising as well as on travellers’ attention (Heracleous, Wirtz & Pangarkar 2006 [6]). The ‘Singapore Girl’ since 1972 has been the heart of the SIA theme advertising till today.

Hub of orient

The international post war boom in civil aviation, followed by the development of pure-jet passenger aircrafts quickly saw the realisation of Singapore’s potential as an originating, terminating and stopover point for airline passengers and cargo (SIA press kit 1989 [9]). SIA strategic move to maintain a hub and spoke system adopted from the USA as well as implementation of the point-to-point system at selected locations allows the company to expand in terms of destinations and passengers rate (Doganis, R 1991 [3]). SIA made use of Singapore advantageous position as a communication hub to attract the attention of travellers worldwide. It made Singapore a hub for Asia’s regional routes. The Singapore Stopover programme was purely designed for this purpose. SIA worked with its local tourism board to promote Singapore as a tourist attraction as well as a business communication centre of the region (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). This move triggered rapid growth in the Asia-Pacific region as well as major developments in Asia aviation. Major developments were seen as other national carriers soon followed the steps of SIA (Doganis, R 1991 [4]).

Latest Fleet

Since the MAL days, the airline uses jet carriers for their business. In 1969 MSA was the first in Asia to fly the new B737. By March 1973, SIA stormed the world by having the largest all-Boeing fleet in Asia which consist of nine B707s and five B737s which was backed-up by an airline staff of almost 6000 people (Allen, R. 1990 [3]).

During 1972, just as SIA was formed, another major development in aviation would be the decision for the airline to acquire new wide-bodied jets in the form of B747s. This decision was crucial during that time as many believed that it was not a wise choice. SIA operate its B747s in 1973 which is first in the Asia-Pacific region (SIA press kit 1989 [9]). SIA policy of using a minimum number of aircraft types showed success as it avoids the expenses of maintaining diverse equipment. SIA had only operated in the B747s, B707s and B737s up till 1977. All these Boeing aircraft has some degree of commonality in in-flight and ground support equipment which further reduces the operating cost. This strategic decision changes the outcome of SIA in the aviation market (SIA press kit 1989 [9]). In 1976, just four years from being independent from MSA, SIA had decided a programme of fleet rationalisation and modernisation. SIA has purchased the advanced B727-200 which is to phrase-out the old B737s and B707s (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). Within the same year, SIA ordered the DC10-30 which they used it on long-haul routes with ‘lesser’ passengers rate (SIA press kit 1989 [9]).

Another milestone which SIA stormed the aviation industry would be the usage of the Concorde. In mid-1977, SIA had joined with British Airways (BA) to operate the Concorde between London and Singapore. On 9th December 1977, the Concorde service started with BA and SIA colours on each side. The Concorde services stopped after three flights due to Malaysian authorities denied usage of its airspace due to ‘environmental issues’ (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). The service resumed thirteen months later on 24th January 1979 on a thrice-weekly frequency with an additional stop at Bahrain. In less then three years, the service stopped due to not profiting. This service was a market triumph for SIA despite its failure. It allows SIA to be placed on a prestige spotlight as one of the four airlines to operate the supersonic aircraft.

One of the most dramatic impacts in development of aviation which focus on SIA would be the decision to order USD$2,100 million worth of aircraft and spare-parts from Boeing Company in September 1977 (SIA press kit 1989 [9]). This decision proves significant in its future. During that era, many were unfavourable by the bold decision made by SIA.

SIA gave travellers the confidence in technological advancement which leads to a perception of safety and ‘new’. These latest fleet concept increased its passengers growth rate. SIA was ranked 24th airline worldwide by Air Transport World in May 1978. SIA was ranked 3rd in Asia region. On the European aviation monthly Interavia (October 1978 issue) SIA was 1st in world airlines with a load factor of 74.2% and weight-load factor of 68.9% (SIA press kit 1989 [9]).

In-flight services

SIA are one of the pioneers in providing excellence in-flight services. Its motto of providing a ‘little extra’ to make flying more enjoyable has result in a massive growth of competition worldwide even till today (Heracleous, Wirtz & Pangarkar 2006 [6]).
SIA was classified as a trend setter in terms of services since the 1970s (SIA press kit 1989 [9]). Its introduction of free drinks/liquors, movie headsets and other value-added freebies created a huge impact in the aviation market. SIA was not a contracting airline with the IATA during the 1970s. Thus SIA went against the rules of IATA on in-flight services which subsequently invited many complaints from major airlines worldwide (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). SIA intrusion on such excellence services were soon followed by others.

Another unique feature of SIA would be having more cabin crew on long haul flights as compared to industrial average. In order to provide better service, SIA had eighteen cabin crews on a 747 instead of only fifteen which is an industrial average while Pam Am carried only thirteen (Lim, P. Y. 1979 [8]). Cabin designs were larger and had more facilities such as larger storage space and more toilets (SIA press kit 1989). In 1975, SIA offered ‘executive zones’ for full-fare economy passengers. In 1976 to 1977, SIA introduced the ‘slumberette-bed’ as well as the reclining swivel-seat ‘snoozzzers’ in the upper-deck of the B747s or first-class passengers (Allen, R. 1990 [3]).

SIA also introduced KrisWorld which is a system of entertainment on board all flights since 1977. Free-complimentary publication known as Silver Kris was provided during late 1975 till today. Such unique services produced tangible results in terms of SIA’s performance. It has also earned high awards and ratings since the 1970s till today. These innovations of service excellence raise the industry standards in aviation market in the 1970s; making SIA an industrial benchmark in service (Heracleous, Wirtz & Pangarkar 2006 [6]).

Training and development

SIA concentrates on investing on training and development as they believed that choosing and having the right people are their assets (Heracleous, Wirtz & Pangarkar 2006 [6]). In 1979, SIA has spent approximately SGD$ 28.5million for training and development (SIA press kit 1989 [9]).

The purchase of flight stimulators for training was greatly taken into concern. In 1973, a B707 stimulator was installed. The following year, pilot training centre plans were taken into action with orders of B747 flight stimulators. In the end of 1979, SIA has all of the needed aircraft type’s stimulators for training. Such investment for training ensures that SIA reputation was in safe hands. With more training, it will increase in air transport safety and reliability.

Cabin crew training were also relatively important. SGD$3.9million had been spent on building cabin mock-ups of all aircraft type for training. SIA was regard as one of the pioneers which started exclusive cabin crew training which is to maintain its high quality service (SIA press kit 1989 [9]).

Bilateral agreements

During the break-up of MSA, SIA took over all the bilateral agreements for all international routes. Due to its geographical location, SIA can only target regional and international routes. Therefore, bilateral agreements are crucial for the company’s expansion (Allen, R. 1990 [3]).

During the 1970s, SIA and the civil aviation department applied for traffic rights but results were not positive as many world markets such as USA closed it doors at SIA. SIA and the Singapore government explained about the benefits of traffic rights but were mostly falling on deaf ears (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). Without traffic rights, SIA seem ‘struck’ during the early 1970s as the company set upon substantial expansion from the start. One negative impact during this era was the termination of bilateral agreements between Germany and Singapore. The Germans felt that SIA is a threat to Lufthansa (Lim, P. Y. 1979 [8]).

To make matters worst, SIA was not a member of the IATA, a fact noted by major airlines (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). With perseverance, SIA managed to prove that close-doors policy were not favourable. On 23rd September 1977, Singapore had concluded an air service agreement with USA to operate passenger and cargo services to San Francisco via Hong Kong, Quam and Honolulu (Lim, P. Y. 1979 [8]). After 1978 deregulation act in USA, frequencies of service gradually increased to five services weekly on April 1980. For direct point-to-point flights from Singapore to USA; using only third and four freedom rights from the Chicago convention in 1944 there are no frequency restrictions (Kahn, A.E. 1993 [7]). Since then, SIA grew in terms of their network covering 35 cities in 28 countries dated in 1979. This massive ‘push’ for more traffic rights by SIA influenced major developments in airliners worldwide.

Innovation and technology

SIA vital success is credited to the tremendous investment in innovation and technology as well as its in-house capability. Since 1972, SIA uses the KRISCOM reservations and check-in system which was from MSA. Computer technology is a value-add factor for SIA. It improved efficiency tremendously (Allen, R. 1990 [3]). SIA invested massively in computers. In April 1978, SIA became the first Asian airline to participate in the London-based Travicom systems which was linked to KRISCOM (SIA press kit 1989). SIA foresight in technology allows them to emphasize on the quality of service which eventually allows SIA to become a major player in the airline market (Heracleous, Wirtz & Pangarkar 2006 [6]).

SIA has also invested in engineering facilities, workshops to overhaul and repair aircrafts and ground-support equipment. These allow SIA to be self-sufficient and its continuous upgrade of machines and computers allows SIA to remain as a top player in the airline business (SIA press kit 1989 [9]).


In summary, SIA started off in 1947 under MAL. During that era, MAL provided only domestic and regional services. During the 1960s, MAL was the first in Asia to use all jet-carriers for international routes. MAL prospers steadily despite political issues in Malaya. MAL had also laid the groundwork for the ‘Singapore Girl’ during the 1960s. This concept was eventually taken to use by SIA after its formation as the national carrier of Singapore. After Singapore was separated with Malaysia in 1965, MAL was deregistered and the two nations formed MSA. MSA lasted for only a few years despite buying new Boeings and having a steady growth rate. The cause of separation of MSA was because of different priorities between the two governments as Singapore’s interest was to expand international routes while Malaysia was more concerned with domestic routes. In 1972, SIA was born as the national carrier of Singapore, while Malaysia had their own airline known as MAS.

SIA grow tremendously and it never looked back. The importance of marketing created a huge impact in aviation worldwide. SIA’s brand reputation key success factor will be the ‘Singapore Girl’ concept. SIA uses this symbol till today and it is now marked as SIA. All people worldwide will instantly recognise the sarong kebaya which is linked to SIA. With its geographical location, SIA attract passengers through stop-over which increases its’ growth rate. The foresight of promoting safety allowed SIA to offer the latest jet-carriers on the market. Another significant factor would be the first in the Asia-Pacific region to introduce the B747s in Asia under SIA. SIA persistence to aircraft technology benefits them in terms of reputation. SIA is one of the four prestige airlines who used the Concorde services. This major milestone brought intangible benefits to the company although it was not profitable.

SIA was one of the pioneers for top-notch in-flight services. Without IATA restrictions, SIA provided better services which gave passengers a different experience compared to other major airlines during that era. Investment of technology allows efficiency in services which allows SIA to be a major player in the airline business. SIA expanded its network tremendously after the deregulation act 1978 in USA.

SIA commitment to pursuit for excellence has brought the airline to where it stands today. The SIA dedication to quality will not change and this persistent has lead to great heights by comparing what the company has achieved since their humble beginnings till what it is today

1. SKYTRAX (2010a). Singapore Airlines ranking. Retrieved from Skytrax on 24 April 2010.
2. SKYTRAX (2010b). Singapore Airlines passenger reviews. Retrieved from Skytrax on 24 April 2010.
3. ALLEN. R (1990). SIA. Take-off to Success. Published by: Singapore Airlines Limited.
4. Doganis, R. (1991). Flying off course: The Economics of International Airlines (2nd Ed.). New York: Routledge
5. Flouris, T. G & Oswald, S. L. (2006). Designing and Executing Strategy in Aviation Management. Aledershot, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
6. Heracleous, L. Wirtz, J & Pangarkar, N. (2006). Flying High in a Competitive Industry. Cost-Effective Service Excellence at Singapore Airlines. Singapore: McGraw Hill Education (Asia).
7. Kahn, A.E. (1993). Airline Deregulation. Fortune. Encyclopaedia of Economics. New York, USA: Time-Warner
8. Lim, P. Y. (1979). // A Post-war History of Civil Aviation in Singapore 1945-1975.// Department of History, University of Singapore (NUS).
9. Singapore Airlines Press kit. (1989). A brief History on SIA. (Publication) retrieve from: Civil Aviation Authority Singapore (CAAS).
10. Skytrax Five star airlines ranking. Retrieve from Skytrax website:

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