BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) will begin direct flights to Tokyo’s Narita airport starting March 15, CEO Karam Chand announced on Saturday.

The route is part of RB’s rapid expansion into East Asia, with the flag carrier announcing several new destinations in the past year including Taipei, Seoul, and Beijing.

During the official launch of RB’s fleet of seven new Airbus A320neo on Saturday, Chand said expanding the airline’s network in East Asia — and into the crucial China market — will boost revenue and drive tourism into Brunei.

“On top of our current scheduled flights to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Nanning, RB is seeking to add further capacity into China,” he said, noting that services to Haikou will begin on October 30, and to Changsa on December 18.

From L-R: RB CEO Karam Chand; Minister of Finance & Economy II Dato Hj Mohd Amin; Minister of Primary Resources & Tourism Dato Ali Apong; Minister of Communications Abdul Mutalib; and Airbus Executive Vice-President of Asia Jean Francois Laval at the official launch of RB’s A320neo fleet. Photo: Saifulizam Zamhor

Last year, the airline also announced it would begin flights to Beijing, but plans hit a setback due to the limited landings slots available at Beijing Capital International Airport. In a previous report, Chand said RB would now aim for a December 2018 launch for the direct route.

China is rapidly becoming Brunei’s top source of visitors, topping air arrivals in the first quarter of 2018. The number of Chinese visitors has doubled in the past three years, reaching 52,000 in 2017.

“Our new network with a very strong footprint in key tourism markets will help us in delivering the 500,000 visitors to our shores by 2021 and with it very significant economic benefit to Brunei and the tourism industry stakeholders,” the RB CEO said.

On Saturday, the airline also announced a partnership with Brunei Tourism as the lead marketing agency to promote the sultanate abroad, collaborating with M&C Saatchi of Singapore. 

A special livery depicting Bruneian motifs was unveiled on one of RB’s new A320neos last night. The aircraft will be in service on all RB’s short and medium-haul routes, acting as an ‘ambassador’ for Brunei Tourism.

Chand added that the airline will begin “100 percent digital marketing” in key international markets,  beginning September 24.

VIP guests at RB’s official launch of the A320neo fleet stand before an aircraft with special livery to promote Brunei Tourism. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop
With its eye now turned to Northeast Asia, the CEO said Tokyo represents an opportunity to gain a foothold in a lucrative tourism market.

“It’s a capital-to-capital connection and a big tourism market, we’re very proud to be able to provide the service,” he told The Scoop on the sidelines of the event. “We also already have six mainland China destinations, with one more to be added in due course.”

Chand added that in terms of promoting Brunei abroad, there has been an element of missed opportunity.

“Given the constraints no one has really championed Brunei in international markets, this [new partnership with Brunei Tourism] gives us the opportunity to do that.”

RB is expecting delivery of seven A320neo aircraft this year, as part of its fleet renewal programme. Coupled with the delivery of its fifth Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the airline will expand its fleet from 10 to 14 aircraft, opening up a new phase to pursue regional growth.

The flag carrier signed a billion-dollar financing deal with two local banks last June to finance the purchase of the aircrafts.