SINGAPORE Airlines has singled out Australia as one of two markets it is targeting for growth in flights this year, in yet another ominous sign for Qantas' loss-making international operations.
Qantas' arch-rival plans to boost flights from Australia to 112 a week - from its present schedule of 102 - by the end of this year.
The airline services five Australian airports, including those in Sydney and Melbourne while its regional offshoot, SilkAir, began flying to Darwin in March.
Singapore Airlines' regional vice-president Subhas Menon said yesterday that the bulk of its increases in capacity worldwide this year would be on routes to Australia and China due to the strengths of their economies and demand for premium travel.
''We see both of those markets as growing in terms of prominence in our network, as well as areas that we have identified as future growth centres,'' he said.
The prospect of Singapore Airlines, which has a strategic alliance with Virgin Australia, beefing up capacity on routes to Australia creates further challenges for Qantas, whose international operations are forecast to lose more than $450 million this financial year.
Chinese airlines such as China Southern have also been significantly increasing flights to Australia, adding to the intense competition from Middle Eastern airlines Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
Mr Menon said much of Singapore Airlines' capacity expansion into Australia this year would be on routes to Perth and Brisbane, while it would boost flights to Adelaide from seven a week to 10 from July 2, partly because it is a city few airlines have targeted in the past.
Singapore Airlines also plans to ''operate as many A380s as we can'' to Sydney and Melbourne. It operates two A380s to Sydney - one of which has its entire top deck devoted to business class - while it wants to put on a second superjumbo on the Melbourne route by the end of the year.
However, the airline has not been immune to the triple whammy of high jet fuel prices, intense competition and a weak global economy. Its profit slumped 69 per cent to $US268 million for the year to March.
Despite Singapore Airlines' advances, Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific said yesterday that it did not plan to increase flights to Australia from its present schedule of 69 flights a week.
Meanwhile, Virgin announced yesterday that it had hired Judith Crompton, a former sales executive at both Qantas and Etihad, in the newly created role of head of sales. She will start on August 1.