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Firefly feels the pain from Singapore suspension

Firefly has seen “significant impact” on its revenue and profit from the recent suspension of operations to Singapore due to the ongoing Malaysia-Singapore dispute.

The turboprop operator had to suspend all flights to Singapore from 1 December, the same day it was due to move operations from Changi airport to Seletar airport, after failing to gain approval from Malaysia’s civil aviation regulator for operations from Seletar.

Firefly chief executive Ignatius Ong tells FlightGlobal that Singapore is the second most important market for the carrier, after Penang, in terms of frequency and revenue.

"It is putting a huge hole in Firefly's profit and loss [statement]," he says of the suspension.

The carrier used to operate 10 flights a day out of Singapore – seven to Kuala Lumpur, two to Ipoh and one to Kuantan. These accounted for about three of its 12 ATR 72s in service.

Ong says the airline had considered deploying the turboprops elsewhere, but decided against doing so because it wants to be able to mount flights to Singapore once regulatory approval comes through. It is instead taking advantage of the downtime to push forward maintenance work for its fleet.

“From a schedule integrity point of view, we’re not doing anything for now. We’re still quite hopeful that this thing should be sorted out in the next couple of weeks,” he adds.

FlightGlobal schedules data shows that services between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur account for 33.2% of Firefly's seat capacity, followed by those from Kuala Lumpur to Penang (24.6%) and Johor Bahru (18.8%).

Singapore recently opened a new passenger terminal at Seletar airport, which has long been used for general aviation, in-line with plans to shift turboprop operations away from Changi airport. Firefly is currently the only scheduled turboprop operator to Singapore.

Malaysia opposes Singapore’s plan to implement procedures for an instrument landing system at Seletar, arguing that the move would “stunt development’ around the Pasir Gudang industrial area, including imposing height restrictions on buildings and affecting port activities.

It has also said that it wants to take back airspace delegated to Singapore under an agreement in 1974.

Besides the airspace issue, the two countries are also in a dispute over maritime borders.

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