Royal Brunei Airlines spreads its wings in 2018

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Image: RB

This article was first published on January 05, 2019 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 18.

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) continues to tighten its grip onto the Northeast Asian market when it embarked to greater heights last year with new fleet of aircrafts and manpower now ready to tackle its fast-paced expansion plan.

In just a span of one year, the national flag carrier upscaled the size of its fleet, opened more recruitment, developed new training tools for staff and most importantly, introduced several flights to key areas deemed economically significant to the sultanate.

Minister of Finance and Economy II and Chairman of RB Board of Directors, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Hj Mohd Amin Liew Bin Abdullah delivering his remarks during RB’s launching ceremony of the Airbus A320neo fleet at hangar 3 of the Brunei International Airport. Image: RIdhwan Kamarulzaman

Increasing its fleet

RB first announced its order for seven new Airbus A320neo in 2014 which aircrafts are powered by LEAP-1A26 engines from CFM International.

These advanced and new engines have some of the best fuel, noise, emission and operating efficiency in its class – making them the perfect choice for RB’s medium-haul flights, achieving significant cost savings.

Four years after the announcement, RB received the first of seven eco-friendly A320neo aircrafts in May 2018.

The single-aisle aircraft can accommodate a total of 144 passengers – sitting 12 in business class and remaining 132 in economy.

As of December 2018, the airline has a total of 148 pilots comprising of 100 local and 48 foreign pilots; a total of 381 cabin crew with 364 local and 17 foreign crew

The neo has 15 per cent fuel reduction with 5000 tonnes less carbon dioxide emissions per year per aircraft and nearly 50 per cent reduction in noise footprint compared to the previous generation Airbus aircraft.

The boutique airline received its final neo last November and it currently operates a fleet of 14 aircrafts comprising of five Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, seven Airbus A320neo and two Airbus A320ceo.

RB has one of the youngest fleets in the world with an average fleet age of two years.

The four new cadet pilots of the Royal Brunei Airlines Cadet Pilot Intake 51 with RB CEO Karam Chand (C) at a signing ceremony held at RB campus along with RB officers. Image: Courtesy of RB

Manpower development, service and quality assurance

The national airline always wants to be an employer of choice and supportive in hiring local talents not only ground staff but also pilots and cabin crew.

In October last year, RB hired four new cadet pilots under its Cadet Pilot Intake 51 programme who were among 84 shortlisted Bruneians who applied for the programme.

Just like its previous pilot trainings, the airline partnered with L3 Airline Academy in New Zealand whereby cadets undergo an 18-month training and Intake 51 are expected to complete by April 2020.

A flight is not complete without its cabin crew; the frontliners who provide customer service to passengers while ensuring customers’ comfort and safety throughout the flight.

Moreover, to accommodate the national carrier’s rapid route expansion and new aircrafts, RB has recruited over 60 new local cabin crew last year.

The addition makes up 96 per cent of Bruneian crew employed, making the largest number of cabin crew recruitment since its incorporation in 1974.

The recruitment was completed in three batches to ensure best training was offered to the new employees in terms of guest service delivery and mandatory safety training.

According to RB, as of December last year, the airline has a total of 148 pilots comprising of 100 local and 48 foreign pilots; a total of 381 cabin crew with 364 local and 17 foreign crew.

Not only they are focusing on new recruitment, RB takes care on the professional development of its existing staff.

In November, the airline marked another milestone as it introduced a new e-learning platform dubbed “RB ilmu”.

RB staff seen learning from RB ilmu e-learning portal. Image: Courtesy of RB

The e-learning portal is equipped with the capabilities to provide its staff with the learning accessibility anytime and anywhere either they are based locally or overseas without the need to physically attend a traditional training room setting.

Furthermore, the airline does not only aspire to be the preferred company among jobseekers but it is also the preferred airline among locals – an identity held dearly by Bruneians.

Last April, RB won two titles for the 2018 TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards for Airlines; Traveller’s Choice Economy Class – Asia and Travellers’ Choice Regional Airlines – Asia.

The travel planning and booking site highlighted world top carriers based on the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for airlines worldwide gathered for 12 months.

Carriers were rate based on customer service, cleanliness, check-in and boarding, legroom, seat comfort, value for money, in-flight entertainment and food and beverage.

RB never fail to impress stakeholders with its continued development for the betterment and seamless guest experience when using their service.

The national airline also introduced its first ever RB Mobile App in April, providing greater flexibility for flight bookings, check-in with mobile boarding pass, check flight information and schedules on the go.

One of the Airbus A320neo during RB’s launching ceremony of the Airbus A320neo fleet at hangar 3 of the Brunei International Airport on 22/09/18. Image: RIdhwan Kamarulzaman

Paving road to trade pacts, tourism and bilateral ties

The increasing fleet from 10 to 14 aircrafts today allows RB to make frequencies on their existing markets and build new ones, said its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Karam Chand in previous report.

Following the delivery of its new A320neo aircrafts, RB has introduced several regional and international routes to China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mumbai, Kuching as well as London.

Last year, RB opened direct routes to the Chinese cities Nanning and Haikou and also announced flights soon to Chengdu and Changsha, paving opportunities for both trade and tourism between China and Brunei.

Its move to have direct flights to these cities is timely especially when China remained as the top arrivals to Brunei by air in the first quarter of 2018 due to high travel demand from the Far East markets such as China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

RB also made a perfect choice in appointing Brunei’s own superstar and entrepreneur Wu Chun as its International Brand Ambassador – a public figure who is already well-established in the Chinese market.

RB International Brand Ambassador Wu Chun (C) with guests and fans at a promotional event held in Taipei. Image: Courtesy of RB

With Wu Chun, who has been the face of RB since 2014, RB has been actively working on strategic marketing campaigns with the Brunei-born celebrity as he plays a key role in introducing Brunei as the destination of choice especially in adventure tourism and eco-tourism.

Several cities in China such as Nanning has become the focus of local businesses and startups who wanted to make a breakthrough into the foreign market.

This is further amplified with the help of Darussalam Enterprise (DARe) as the statutory body regularly sent invitations to local businesses for expos in China.

Moreover, the national airline also launched its non-stop direct flight to London in October, flying daily to the United Kingdom nearly 14 hours onboard the Dreamliner.

At the launch of the inaugural flight last October, Second Finance and Economy Minister Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said that with the non-stop service and good connections via Brunei International Airport, it is believed that there will be significant growth from the important long-haul market.

Meanwhile, RB has also made closer connectivity within the Bornean island as it recommenced flight to the capital city of Sarawak, Kuching on December 28 last year.

The initiative was a collaboration between RB, Sarawak Government, Sarawak Tourism and Malaysia Airports, making Brunei like a regional hub for flights.

Sarawak Tourism Board’s CEO Sharzede Datu Salleh said that the flight reinstatement allows Kuching more accessible to their focus markets including Melbourne, Shanghai and London.

Another anticipated destination among Bruneians will be the direct flight to Tokyo on March 15.

The thrice weekly service between Bandar Seri Begawan to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport was announced by Karam Chand in September.

In a previous interview, Japanese Ambassador to Brunei Motohiko Kato said the direct air links will open up more business and tourism opportunities, further enhancing bilateral relations.

A visitor at the two-day promotional event in Taipei taking a photo with RB’s cabin crew. Image: Courtesy of RB

Future Plan

While RB grew tremendously in 2018, the airline still needs to stabilize its newly launched routes and better its operations which may also translate well into more travel promotions and recruitment opportunities for Brunei.

There are several more routes left to be launched by RB this year such as Tokyo, Chengdu and Changsha which journeys are yet to be experienced.

Could there be more surprises up RB’s sleeves to introduce more flights this year?

The Bruneian