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Asia Pacific’s top aviation leaders announced at the CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence

China Southern Airlines, SpiceJet, VietJet and Vistara have been recognised among Asia’s top airlines and leaders at CAPA’s 16th annual Asia Pacific Aviation Awards for Excellence in Singapore this evening (14-Nov-2019). The eight award winners were presented at a glittery ceremony at the Capella attended by over 150 of the region’s aviation luminaries, as part of the 2019 CAPA Asia Aviation Summit.  

Regarded as the pre-eminent awards for strategic excellence in aviation, CAPA first established the awards in 2003, to recognise successful airlines and airports within the Asia Pacific region. 

CAPA – Centre for Aviation (CAPA), Chairman Emeritus, Peter Harbison said: “The CAPA Asia Pacific Awards for Excellence are intended to recognise airlines, airports, executives and the wider aviation industry for their strategic leadership and success over the last 12 months, and for helping to propel the whole industry forward.”

Airline Winners

The four winners in the Airline category present airlines that have shown the greatest strategic impact on the development of the airline industry within their class, and have established themselves as leaders, providing a benchmark for others to follow.

Airline of the Year: China Southern Airlines

This is awarded to the airline that has been the biggest standout strategically during the year, has had the greatest impact on the development of the airline industry, has established itself as a leader, and provided a benchmark for others to follow.

China Southern Airlines was selected for its ability to weather short term challenges while remaining focused on its long term growth plan. Despite regional geopolitical issues affecting demand in 2019, China Southern keeps growing its operating profit, and its passenger levels remain strong, growing nearly 9% through the third quarter of 2019.

The airline has also recognised that traditional alliance structures are becoming less relevant in a quickly changing global aviation landscape. By forging an independent path after leaving the SkyTeam, China Southern will maintain its solid leadership in the region while ensuring it has the network depth and breadth to continue to grow profitably.

CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison said: “As China is poised to overtake the US as the largest aviation market by 2030, no airline is currently better positioned to capitalise on the significant opportunities for passenger growth than China Southern.”

China Southern Airlines President and CEO Mr. Ma Xulun said: “The CAPA Asia Pacific Airline of the Year 2019 award to China Southern Airlines has fully affirmed our long-term strategic planning, effective response to market challenges, and our leading position and influence in the area. It’s the first time we have won this prestigious award, which has made the entire China Southern Airlines community so grateful and proud.”

“As of 2019 China Southern Airlines boasts an aircraft fleet of 860. It’s estimated that, in the year 2019, we will carry more than 140 million people. As the largest airline in Asia, we take “Global Connectivity for the Enriched Beauty in Life” as our corporate mission. Customer satisfaction is our first priority and we strive to provide the very best air travel experience to passengers around the world.”

“In September this year, Beijing Daxing International Airport entered into operation. China Southern is the predominant hub carrier at Daxing Airport as we will manage up to 40% of the passenger traffic turnover. The activation of Daxing Airport adds brilliance to our Guangzhou-Beijing “Dual Hub” strategy, our growth in overall competitiveness, and creates further opportunities for high quality development in the coming years.”

“With this new horizon ahead, China Southern Airlines will continue to sustain our strategic strength and promote further accomplishments. Interested partners are very welcome to work with us for comprehensive cooperation and a new model of international partnership. We are inspired to work with our partners to provide better choices and more convenient air travel to passengers and achieve mutual benefit for all parties involved,” added Mr Ma Xulun.

Airline Executive of the Year: SpiceJet India, Chairman and Managing Director, Ajay Singh

This is awarded to the airline executive who has had the greatest individual influence on the aviation industry, demonstrating outstanding strategic thinking and innovative direction for the growth of their business and the industry.

SpiceJet, Chairman and Managing Director, Ajay Singh was selected for his significant and innovative contributions to Indian aviation as a pioneer of the country's LCC sector.

India's third largest airline overall by fleet and 2019 seat count, SpiceJet is the second largest LCC and second largest domestic airline. Annual passenger numbers and revenues grew almost five times from 2008 to 2018. Its 2019 seat count is up by 28%.

Its business is primarily domestic, but its international network has grown over the current decade to embrace 10 destinations, the most recent being Riyadh, launched in Aug-2019.

SpiceJet operates a fleet of 69 Boeing narrowbodies and 32 Bombardier Q400s, as India's only operator of this turboprop family. In Sep-2018, it launched SpiceXpress, its air cargo division operating dedicated freighters.

SpiceJet reported three successive years of net profit between FY2016 and FY2018 in the notoriously competitive Indian market where few airlines have achieved positive results in recent years. Indeed, these results followed successive losses that had taken SpiceJet to the brink of collapse during a period when Mr Singh was not leading the airline.

SpiceJet slipped into loss in the year to Mar-2019 as a result of higher fuel costs and INR depreciation, but returned to profit with its best ever quarterly result in the first quarter of FY2020, in spite of the grounding of 13 Boeing 737MAX-8s and delays to further deliveries.

It compensated for the MAX groundings with an increase in utilisation for its existing Boeing and Q400 aircraft while also adding 32 aircraft to the fleet between Apr-2019 and Jun-2019 in order to take advantage of the gap left by Jet Airways. This demonstrated the robustness of its business model and operational skills.

CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison said: “Ajay Singh has been one of the most effective pioneers of India's low cost airline segment since the establishment of SpiceJet 15 years ago. Since Mr Singh's resumption of management and majority control in 2015, SpiceJet has achieved a strong turnaround from a near financial collapse. Under Mr Singh’s leadership, SpiceJet has adapted the business model to take initiatives not always associated with LCCs, for example operating a turboprop fleet alongside its Boeing737s, launching a cargo subsidiary, joining IATA and signing an MoU with Emirates over future codeshares.”

SpiceJet Chairman and Managing Director Ajay Singh said: “I am truly honoured to receive this prestigious award, which is a recognition of SpiceJet’s spectacular comeback and remarkable performance. Leading SpiceJet from a near shutdown to being one of the finest airlines in India, has been the best experience of my life. This award belongs to every SpiceJetter who has worked relentlessly to resurrecting a dying company and building a globally admired airline that the world today speaks of with admiration and awe."

Low Cost Airline of the Year: VietJet

This is awarded to the low cost or hybrid airline that has been the biggest standout strategically, has established itself as a leader, has been most innovative and provided a benchmark for others to follow.

VietJet was selected for its successful growth during the last few years, building up a 44% market share in Vietnam’s domestic market, which is a highly attractive position given Vietnam’s favourable economic prospects and fast growing market.

VietJet’s international growth has also been impressive as the company opened nine new international routes during the first half of 2019. The airline now serves 78 international routes and 42 domestic routes, and its network spans numerous countries including some of the fastest growing aviation markets - China, Indonesia, and soon, India.

The company continues to evolve the low cost model, taking innovative steps to bolster its ancillary revenue, including its recent partnership with ridesharing app Grab, which allows the company to expand its presence through the travel chain and broaden its brand awareness.

VietJet has one of the lowest unit costs worldwide while also building a market capitalisation of USD3 billion (according to Forbes), providing a solid foundation for a promising future as it becomes one of the world’s leading low cost airlines.

VietJet continues to break the mould for a traditional low cost airline,” said CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison. “The company has a solid financial foundation and a game plan to formidably challenge some of the largest operators in Asia Pacific for decades to come.”

Vietjet President & CEO Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao said: “Vietjet’s mission is to make breakthrough changes in the aviation industry’s services. We are thankful for the trust, companionship and recognition from CAPA, the most renowned aviation organisation in the Asia Pacific. We are filled with happiness to have brought flying opportunities with cost-saving fares and friendly services on new and well-furbished aircraft to nearly 100 million passengers while creating positive values to the aviation industry’s community and partners.”

Regional Airline of the Year: Vistara

This is awarded to the regional airline that has been the biggest standout strategically, has established itself as a leader and demonstrated innovation in the regional aviation sector. (Note that this award is not limited to operators of regional aircraft; it is intended to recognise smaller airlines – fewer than 10 million annual passengers – that either do not operate any long haul services, or only operate limited long haul services.)

Vistara was selected for its strong consistent growth, even before the collapse of Jet Airways in Apr-2019. Launched in 2015 and 51% owned by Indian industrial giant Tata Sons and 49% owned by Singapore Airlines, Vistara's traffic grew by 30% in 2018 to more than five million passengers and its seat count is up by 40% in 2019. In a highly competitive domestic market dominated by LCCs, this was a substantial achievement.

Vistara currently operates 40 domestic routes, serving 30 cities in India. It has recently added international routes with the launch of Mumbai-Dubai, Delhi-Bangkok and both Mumbai and Delhi to Singapore in Aug-2019 and Mumbai-Colombo on 25-Nov-2019.

CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison said: “Vistara's growth from start up in 2015 to become India's sixth largest airline by seats in 2019 demonstrates that there is still a place for a well executed full service business model in a market where LCCs have more than three quarters of domestic seats and approaching one third of international seats. Vistara’s recent move into international operations promises to add a new dimension to the India market.”

Vistara Chief Executive Officer Leslie Thng said: “Our vision is to establish Vistara as a global full service airline that India will be proud of. This recognition by CAPA reaffirms our confidence in realising this vision as we broaden our horizons and prepare to launch medium and long-haul international operations while bolstering our presence in India. Our effort continues to be to innovate and stay relevant in the dynamic aviation industry, to maintain the highest standards of operations and to focus on delivering consistent, world-class service to customers.”

Airport Winners

The three winners in the Airport category have demonstrated the utmost strategic leadership across the Asia Pacific region and taken significant steps to progress the aviation industry in the last 12 months.

Large Airport of the Year: Hong Kong International Airport

This is awarded to the airport with over 30 million annual passengers that has been the biggest standout strategically, has established itself as a leader and done the most to advance the progress of the aviation industry.

Hong Kong International Airport was selected for its role in managing the difficult process of agreeing its third runway project with multiple parties and the accompanying Terminal 1 expansion and improvement project. This will ensure that three years before the runway is completed, terminal capacity will be more than sufficient to handle the anticipated increase in passengers.

It was also selected for its resilience in dealing with the disruption caused during the political protests of 2019 and for managing to maintain consistent services to the passengers using it during that disruption, thus offering support to Hong Kong’s beleaguered international commercial and tourism sectors.

CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison said: “Hong Kong Airport has successfully completed a long and tortuous process of moving towards agreement on a third runway, along with its terminal expansion.  More recently the airport has acted effectively to navigate a difficult period, accommodating passenger and airline needs and maintaining operations in difficult circumstances.”

Hong Kong International Airport Deputy Director, Services Delivery, Steven Yiu said: “We are honoured to receive this prestigious award, which recognises our efforts in strengthening the hub status of Hong Kong International Airport through continuous development of various segments, from core passenger service, air cargo and multimodal connectivity to retail, exhibitions and hotels. By accelerating these interconnected and synergetic developments, HKIA is transforming from a city airport to an Airport City – a trend that will continue over the next decade and beyond.”

Medium Airport of the Year: Brisbane Airport

This is awarded to the airport with 10 to 30 million annual passengers that has been the biggest standout strategically, has established itself as a leader and done the most to advance the progress of the aviation industry.

Brisbane Airport was selected for boosting the Asia market, by increasing the number of weekly frequencies by 50 to 137 in the period July 2016 to July 2019, a critical enhancement for Queensland and its tourism industry, which accounts for 4% of Queensland's GDP. China has become the largest source market for Queensland while Japan is the third largest source market.

Together with Queensland and Brisbane tourism and economic development bodies, Brisbane has become a model for airport business development.

Secondly, for its innovative development of non-aeronautical businesses, and attendant revenues. For example, the BNE Auto Mall, of which stage one will open by 2021. It is a 300 million Australian dollar automotive precinct which will include a performance track, car dealerships, manufacturers and retail amenities and which will also service and sit alongside exhibition and conference facilities, hotels and driver training schools, which are all located next to the Brisbane Airport international terminal.

And finally, for being one of the leading airports in the world for on-time performance.

CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison said: “Applying an important coordinated strategy with Queensland and Brisbane tourism and economic development bodies, Brisbane has become a successful model for airport business development. This has helped achieve a significant growth in international services to the airport, with attendant economic benefits to the city and the region.

Brisbane Airport Chief Executive Officer Gert-Jan de Graaff said: “It is an honour and a privilege to be recognised by industry experts and to receive the title of CAPA Asia Pacific Medium Airport of the Year 2019. Being a great airport is about more than building and managing safe, secure and efficient facilities.  It’s also about advocating for our community and passengers and forming collaborative alliances to vie for new services, connecting people, creating communities, and developing opportunities through collaboration."

“Community is well and truly at the heart of what we do at Brisbane Airport and I think this approach sets us apart in the industry,” Mr de Graaff added.

Regional/Small Airport of the Year: Phnom Penh International Airport

This is awarded to the regional airport that has been the biggest standout strategically, has established itself as a leader and done the most to advance the progress of the aviation industry. (Note that this award is not limited to airports without any long haul or intercontinental services; it is intended to recognise smaller airports – fewer than 10 million annual passengers – that rely primarily on short haul routes.)

Phnom Penh International Airport was selected for adopting an innovative strategy that has led to sustained passenger growth in excess of 25% over two years (2017/18) and of 15% in Q1-Q3 of 2019 while the regional leader, Thailand’s Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, has languished in the 3% to 10% category.

For (together with the other airports in the group), contributing to up to 17% of the country’s total GDP, sustaining more than 1.7 million jobs, representing 20% of the working population. And for the very rapid completion of works to extend the runway to 3,000 metres, thereby expanding the potential for new long haul services.

CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison said: “Over the three years from 2015 to 2018, Phnom Penh Airport grew its passenger volume by some 50%, requiring enormous adjustments to its operating regime. At the same time cargo payload capacity has almost doubled. The expansion was the result of a well coordinated programme of business development.”

Cambodia Airports Chief Executive Officer Alain Brun said: “As a small airport, Phnom Penh International Airport benefits from an ability to easily adapt and respond to our customers’ needs, which is demonstrated by winning this award. This accolade is testament to the relevance of the airport Public Private Partnership model under which Phnom Penh International Airport, powered by Vinci Airports, has been successfully developed over the last 25 years. Our model warrants long-term vision, reliability, and continuous investments, which translate into solid passenger growth, from 600,000 to 6 million by the end of 2019, significant infrastructure projects and operational efficiency.”

Innovation Winner

Innovation of the Year: Singapore Airlines

This award recognises the airline, airport or supplier responsible for the most powerful innovation in the industry over the past year. The innovation could be customer-facing, B2B, efficiency-related or a new marketing product – and must be a new standout and established the company as a market leader in the product or process.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) was selected for its ULR product. Singapore Airlines has invested heavily in ensuring the success of its resumed nonstop flights to the US. SIA worked very closely with Airbus to ensure its A350-900ULRs would be available and fit for purpose to offer travellers the best possible service available. SIA was the first airline in the world to operate the A350-900ULR, configured in a two-class layout, with 67 Business Class seats and 94 Premium Economy Class seats.

The innovative strategy involved an entirely new service and product including new meals from Canyon Ranch specially created for ultra-long haul nonstop US flights. Wellness formed an important part of the strategy with SIA partnering with Canyon Ranch, the world’s premiere integrative wellness brand, designed to re-invent ultra-long-haul travel with a focus on wellness cuisines, rest and relaxation, and general well-being on the world’s longest flights. 

“Wellness continues to be an important factor of any corporate travel programme”, said CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison. “Singapore Airlines pushed the development of the A350-900ULR with a vision of expanding its premium long haul offering. This clearly will assist airlines around the world as they themselves push their long haul strategies. Combatting the impacts of these gruelling services by partnering with a leading wellness brand only emphasises the innovative strategy of the airline.”

Singapore Airlines Chief Executive Officer Goh Choon Phong said: “We are honoured to receive the Innovation of the Year award from CAPA. Innovation is at the heart of everything that we do at Singapore Airlines, whether it is our cutting-edge in-flight products and services, or the digital transformation programme that is changing almost every aspect of our business. Our record-breaking non-stop services to the US exemplify our efforts to push the limits and bring even greater convenience and comfort to our customers.”

Subsequent to the Asia Pacific awards, the CAPA Global Awards for Excellence will be announced as part of the CAPA World Aviation Outlook Summit in Malta on 5-Dec-2019. For more information on the CAPA Awards for Excellence, visit centreforaviation.com/about/capa-awards

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About CAPA - Centre for Aviation 

CAPA - Centre for Aviation (CAPA), part of Aviation Week Network, is the leading provider of independent aviation market intelligence, analysis and data services covering worldwide developments. Established in 1990, CAPA’s platforms help the aviation sector and supplier businesses stay informed, remain connected to industry leaders and fuel inspiration to drive change. CAPA’s global C-level and corporate travel summits are held in key aviation markets around the world, attracting executive level speakers, attendees and leading stakeholders of the global commercial aviation industry. Understanding aviation markets is our great strength and passion, along with providing CAPA members, clients and partners with an unparalleled level of expertise and insight. For more information and details on membership and events, please visit centreforaviation.com. 

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