Jetstar launches controversial Singapore hub

Jetstar today begins flights on the international service that has drawn the ire of a pilots union and has cost one of the airline's pilots his job — the direct Melbourne-Singapore run.

The inaugural direct-Singapore Jetstar flight JQ007, scheduled to take-off from Tullamarine at noon, brings to fruition Qantas's budget airline's plan to use Singapore as a "hub" by basing two long-haul Airbus A330 airliners and crew there.

Jetstar's chief commercial officer David Koczkar said in commencing its "long anticipated" A330 hub in Singapore, "Jetstar will offer even greater scale to its Asian operations and achieve new passenger growth."

Jetstar's Melbourne-Singapore service will operate daily.

The plan to base the two airliners and crew in Singapore has drawn intense criticism from the Australian and International Pilots Association and some pilots, who claim Singapore-based crew would be working on Australian-registered planes with worse pay and conditions than their Australian counterparts.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said basing crew and aircraft overseas was a move to keep its services "relevant" to the market in which it operates, to have crew that "reflect and live in the culture" the airline services.

It was , he said, "the best of both worlds".

Jetstar sacked one of its First Officers, Joe Eakins, also a union representative, for bringing the airline into "disrepute" over offshore-staffing and safety claims published on Fairfax Media websites.

Mr Eakins warned that Australia's aviation safety culture "… will be obliterated if the offshoring push continues … Draconian workplace conditions can be imposed through the use of foreign 'bases of convenience', allowing … Third World wages and working conditions."

The pilot's union, which is backing Mr Eakins' unfair dismissal claim, is airing similar concerns before the Senate's inquiry into pilot training and safety standards in Australian aviation.

Jetstar says the fares on the route, from $349 one way, are 30 per cent less than lead-in fares from its competitors, and the airline will apply its "price-beat guarantee" to beat any competitor's fare by 10 per cent.

Mr Eakins said Jetstar was cutting labour costs by offering pilots to be based in Singapore salaries that were significantly lower than Australian-based pilots.

"While they are offering the jobs to Australian pilots first, albeit on contracts that cut basic remuneration by almost 50 per cent, the remaining positions will be filled out of Singapore and Vietnam," Mr Eakins wrote.

"This follows similar moves with their New Zealand-based JetConnect subsidiary, that pays pilots about 70 per cent of their Australian colleagues' wages, and the 'offshoring' of a large proportion of Jetstar's Australian-based international flight attendants to Thailand and Singapore," he said.

But for Jetstar, which says two-thirds of it 7000-strong workforce is based in Australia while it derives two-thirds of its business from overseas, the opening of its Singapore base is a crucial plank of its future growth strategy.

"Under our pan-Asian network plans we will now accelerate our growth by operating regular A330 services through our Asian hub at Singapore Changi Airport," Mr Koczkar said.

"This approach has us well-placed to best participate in the fast growing and now largest global aviation market that is Asia, and further expand with first time long-haul flying from Singapore.

“Singapore alone is Australia's sixth largest tourism export market and amongst Melbourne's largest visiting markets from Asia," he said.

The Melbourne-Singapore route acts as an important feeder to multiple Jetstar network connections to 22 other Asian destinations, such as China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, as well to Qantas routes into Europe.

Jetstar's direct Melbourne-Singapore flights are also codeshared for those booking through Qantas (such flights are identifiable with the "JQ" flight code, as opposed to Qantas's "QF" code). The Jetstar flights will operate in addition to Qantas's Singapore services.

Conveniently for travellers with onward bookings on Jetstar/Qantas services, the Jetstar flights land in the same terminal building as Qantas flights at Singapore's airport, rather than Singapore's dedicated low-cost airline terminal.

Jetstar is also poised to benefit from flying travellers from Asia to Melbourne and on to the trans-Tasman route.

Jetstar is also launching twice-weekly Melbourne-Queenstown A320 services today (from $199 one-way) and Melbourne-Auckland (from $169 one-way) went daily from Monday.

The new services means Jetstar operates more than 350 return services to six overseas and 14 domestic markets direct from Melbourne Airport — adding 387,000 extra seats a year, a doubling of the airline's international capacity from Melbourne.

Melbourne Airport's chief executive Chris Woodruff said Jetstar continued to drive the growth of tourism in Victoria.

"Since commencing services in 2004 Jetstar have made an outstanding contribution to the growth of Melbourne's domestic and international market, putting affordable travel within the reach of more Victorians," Mr Woodruff said.

"Melbourne Airport is proud to be Jetstar's home and is well-poised to support their continued growth into the future with our $330 million international terminal expansion."

Victoria's new tourism minister Louise Asher said Jetstar should be commended.

"Businesses throughout Victoria, including accommodation, restaurants and other tourism operators, will be the major beneficiaries from the additional revenue afforded from so many extra tourists," she said.