IN FEBRUARY, air travellers gave Jetstar Asia grief when it cancelled 80 flights in six weeks because of a pilot shortage and the grounding of planes for routine maintenance.
EARNING ITS STRIPES: Tiger Airways, which is 49 per cent owned by SIA, has no trouble attracting high-calibre staff. Both Tiger and Jetstar invest in brand new planes that come with better and more sophisticated tools and on-board equipment.
Tiger Airways has had its share of unhappy customers too, especially when flights don't take off on time because planes are grounded for unscheduled servicing or repair.
To offer low fares and still boost the kitty, both airlines operate a business model that relies heavily on high traffic volumes, high aircraft utilisation and quick turnarounds. Planes do not sit idle.
Tiger chief executive officer Tony Davis said: "We make sure the aircraft are in the best shape before we dispatch them, even if it means that occasionally, we have to incur a short delay.
"We always put safety ahead of schedule and I think people would prefer to know that we are doing that."
The crash of the Thai One-Two-Go airliner in Phuket on Sept 16 caused some anxiety among air travellers.
They need not fret when flying out of Singapore or on Singapore-registered carriers, said Jetstar and Tiger, which have been operating blemish-free for about three years now.
Their bottom line: They will not cut corners when it comes to safety.
And why should they, asked Jetstar chief executive officer Chong Phit Lian.
"What is our core business? It's taking people from one place to another and the basis of that must be a safe flight," she said.
"People" include the airline's own staff and their families. "There is no way I would compromise on the safety of my children," she said.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) also regulates with an iron fist, the airlines said, and will not hesitate to penalise airlines, and even revoke licences if necessary.
Jetstar's head of operations Kwan Yue said: "Our licensing requirements and standards are the same as any other airline in Singapore. There is no difference in the way that the CAAS treats us or any low-cost airline, and full-service carriers."
It's a tough regimen that starts from day one, when an application is made for an air operators certificate (AOC) the seal of approval needed before a Singapore-based airline can take to the skies.
The process is a long and exhaustive one that can take many months and many rounds of document submissions and re-submissions, aircraft inspections, and verification of staff quality and expertise.
Even with their AOC in hand, the airlines are subject to annual checks before the licence can be renewed.
Airlines must ensure, for example, that planes are properly maintained in accordance with manufacturer-approved programmes which include pre-flight and daily checks.
No aircraft can get off the ground unless it has a CAAS-issued certificate also renewable annually declaring it is fit to fly. Airlines must make sure too that the people checking and maintaining their fleet are CAAS-approved.
Equally strict standards are expected of pilots as well. They must be trained in government-approved schools and renew their flying licence annually, after the necessary medical checks.
Jetstars chief pilot, Captain Andrew Strauss, said: Our systems and procedures are audited twice a year and, as part of that, CAAS pilots also fly with us to check on procedures and cockpit crew. They choose which flight they want, sometimes without much notice, so you cant put the chief pilot and training instructor on just because the government inspector is coming.
Foreign airlines flying in and out of Singapore are also subject to checks by the CAAS that include inspections of on-board documents and licences issued by the home country.
ST Photo: Chew Seng Kim
MADAM PAREMJIT KAUR SIDHU, 40
Airline: Jetstar Asia
Fare: $325 return
Best thing about the flight: Friendly crew and new plane
Worst thing: Delayed departure
Will you fly budget again? Yes, if the price is right.
PRAKASH SANDHU, nine
Student, son of Madam Paremjit Kaur
Fare: $220 return
Best thing about the flight: Cup noodles. Hot and nice.
Worst thing: No aerobridge. It was late at night and cold when we arrived. We had to get off the plane and take a bus to the terminal.
Will you fly budget again? If my mum and dad tell me to, I will have to.
To ensure that they comply with all the rules set out by the regulator, Tiger and Jetstar are mindful of the people they hire and the processes in place to encourage safety-related feedback.
Operating out of Singapore means Tiger has no trouble attracting the best-calibre people. The airline currently has about 80 pilots in Singapore.
Mr Davis said: On average, we get about 40 pilots applying for every one job so we can pick and choose those with the right qualifications, experience and background.
Jetstar, which has 84 pilots operating a fleet of seven Airbus-320s to 13 destinations around the region, sends all new cockpit crew with no prior A320 experience to the Airbus head office in Toulouse, France, for a week-long training stint, said Capt Strauss.
They also undergo simulator and classroom sessions several times a year to brush up on flying skills and exchange tips with colleagues, he said, adding that the value of information-sharing cannot be emphasised enough.
Both airlines also invest in brand new planes that come with better and more sophisticated tools and on-board equipment to help pilots deal with any incident or emergency that may arise.
These planes are kept in good flying condition by aircraft maintenance companies that are among Asias best Singapore Technologies (ST) Aerospace for Jetstar and SIA Engineering for Tiger.
And while the carriers may not be making money which some say is reason enough to suspect they may be cutting corners both have strong backers with deep pockets and good names to protect.
Tiger is 49 per cent owned by Singapore Airlines and Australias Qantas has a similar-size stake in Jetstar.
In the end, the message for the Singapore traveller is clear, Mr Kwan Yue said: "Continue flying with us. We are safe."
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