BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) on Saturday launched its non-stop service to London, with an eye on capturing more guest traffic along the competitive Melbourne-London route.

The flight will cut four hours from the journey to and from Melbourne, with RB saying that it is the shortest possible route between the Australian state of Victoria and London.

Currently, the national carrier captures just 13 percent of Melbourne-London traffic.

“The competition on that route is intense. For us to offer two stops from [Australia] compared other airlines’ one stop — it’s not competitive, guests are looking for more seamless journeys,” RB’s CEO Karam Chand told The Scoop in a previous interview.

Previously, the airline flew to London Heathrow with a stopover in Dubai, with passengers having to transit for over an hour to allow for refueling and a crew change. However, the runway upgrade at Brunei International Airport will allow the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to take off with full payload.

The widebody aircraft has also been retrofitted with bunks so flight crew can rest during the 14-hour journey from Brunei.

RB said it will continue to fly to Dubai four times a week, effective from October 29.

Speaking during the launch event, Minister of Finance and Economy II cum Chairman of RB’s Board of Directors, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, said the direct link between the UK and Borneo will be a catalyst for increased trade and tourism.

He said RB aims to grow its long-haul market by targeting European guests wanting to visit Sabah and Sarawak, adding that Brunei Tourism is targeting 500,000 annual visitors by 2021.

Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin also took the opportunity to announce the resumption of direct flights between Bandar Seri Begawan and Kuching, Sarawak, which were suspended in 2012.

The service will commence on December 28 with two flights per week, eventually increasing to four flights a week by February 3, 2019.

He added that the direct connection between Brunei and London has the potential to “substantially lift exports by air”, referring to increased trade by air freight.

RB supports the vast majority of cargo coming in and out of Brunei, with Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines providing some additional capacity.

UK High Commissioner Richard Lindsay said that the non-stop flight from London would make a “significant difference” to the number of British companies considering set up companies in Brunei, adding that UK trade envoy Paul Scully would make a visit to the sultanate next week.

“With the strong cultural, economic and political ties between the two countries, it is only natural for RB to provide a seamless non-stop connection,” airline chief Chand added.

RB launched its first service to London Gatwick via Singapore and Dubai in 1990. In 1991, it switched airports, flying to Heathrow twice a week, and eventually launched a daily flight via Dubai in 2004.