Malaysia Airlines launches FireFly to Singapore – a community airline brand. Interview with Head of Marketing

Starting the first week of July, Malaysia Airlines’ subsidiary FireFly will be starting routes from Malaysia to Singapore. Of course, to get to heart of the matter, I met up with their Head of Marketing, Angelina Fernandez, who sheds light into the makings of this new airline and what makes it special. They call themselves the community airline, and offer free snacks (cookies!!) on-board even flights that last as little as 20 mins (Singapore – Melaka).

What makes FireFly special?

FireFly is being positioned as a community airline, “connecting the ethnically-similar communities spread across South East Asia“, as Angelina explains. Targeted at the business traveler – due to quick turnarounds (they fly ATRs), and proximity to the city center in Kuala Lumpur, as they operate out of Subang Airport. The airline also intends to build on Malaysia Airlines’ schedule through flight timings that are complementary.

For the un-initiated, till recently, Singapore-Kuala Lumpur was one of the most heavily protected air routes in the world. Since liberalization, connectivity has increased multi-fold, with airlines like low-cost AirAsia, Tiger Airways, JetStar Asia and now FireFly sometimes offering prices even lower than the bus fares. Enjoy Angelina’s interview (just 3 mins) and then read on for my take on this new airline.

What should the FireFly brand do to survive in the long-haul?

Though it was inevitable that Malaysia Airlines was going to do something to grab a pie of the low-cost market that its competitors have tapped on so well, I personally feel calling FireFly a “community airline” is a bit confusing for the uninformed. Instead of making that as the mainstay of the brand, the airline should emphasize further other aspects that’re already part of its positioning.

  • Play up the fact that they’re flying smaller aircraft (ATRs) and hence there’re no middle-seats. Also, due to smaller numbers, boarding and alighting should be faster – something businessmen would like.
  • Play up Kuala Lumpur’s Subang Airport, since it cuts the travel time into the city by half, as compared to KLIA. And this would appeal to many business as well as leisure travelers.

Subang Airport – the double-edged parang (ok…sword)

The fact that FireFly flies to Subang and not KLIA is a double-edged sword. The downside is that it’s the only airline operating out of that airport, and hence it might lose out on passengers wanting to connect internationally and on to other airlines. That means it must drive a lot of o/d (origin-destination) point-to-point traffic to fill up its planes. For this, the airline must use innovative marketing techniques to create a groundswell and drive demand to its destinations.

For inspiration, it need not look too far. Just learn from its parent Malaysia Airlines, and close competitor AirAsia, both of whom have tapped on social media marketing to directly connect with their customers and get them to fly.

Running an airline is no easy feat, that too in a highly-competitive environment. FireFly must think innovatively and do things differently if it is to succeed in the long term. Having met most of the executives at the helm, I can say that the airline has got an intelligent management. Now, it’s a matter of applying their energies in the right direction and making this venture a success.

What do you think? Will FireFly survive in the long haul? Or will they fizzle? What can they learn from others? Let’s discuss in the comments below or take the discussion over to Twitter.

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 10 comments
  • John Dell

    Their strategy is not a new one, but it is a good one. Porter Airlines based at Toronto’s downtown airport has a business network like this and it has proven successful. They also focus on the business passenger but fly Bombardier Q400’s.

  • Walter Adamson

    Taping into the phrase “usefulness is the language of brand” if Flywire can prove useful to the business segment, and they should be able to do this by simply concnetrating on the time savings, then if all else is managed competently they have a fighting chance of doing well, and good luck to them.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Social Media Academy, Australia

  • Ilya

    I think it’s very good that Firefly works on their brand. They lost many customers in the past by not competing enough with other carriers. They made a mistake by not treating their customers good enough.

    I even had a flight that left 45 minutes earlier. I got the explanation that they thought they had ‘told everyone’ up front…

    Furthermore; canceling routes without any warning isn’t that good too (i.e. the Penang – Kota Bharu route).

    I love the fact that there will be more competition on the KL – Chiangi route. Also the other routes are really nice (melaka etc).

    Not that it’s really relevant; but that Angelina is quite nice 🙂

  • Aamer Quraishi

    Hi Shashank;

    Nice interview, the concept and idea is good, pay only for services required and not everything, hence differentiated approach and hence a new market segment to reach out. I think this should work out if positioned correctly.

  • Joy Abdullah

    Being from KL, Shashank, I have to say that as a brand there is a HUGE lot left for FireFly to do in order to be a preferred “brand” for flying this KL-SIN-KL route. This particular route is the most profitable for all airlines (budget or regular) operating. Given the plethora of choices (all budget airlines which I’m sure you are aware off) and the price war, and the fact that the flying time is only 40 mins or so, selection of an airline comes down to the ticket price and from where. The only advantage FF has is that it flies from the city airport where else others are from KLIA & the LowCostCarrier Terminal (LCCT). And FF flies trubo prob!!! And currently passengers from SIN as well as from KL may prefer going from the other airports as conenctivity is easier than from the city airport.
    So, given these, will it survive the cut throat competition? Well, if it starts getting its “brand act” together and not just be another airline subsidiary…just maybe.

  • Joseph Michael Lamonaca

    Fire-fly community Airline seems like another name for US Based Commuter Airlines. Even the aircrafts they fly the ATR 42 and ATR 72 derive their names as European Regional Turbo Props.

    In my opinion the community vs commuter marketing strategy will be interesting to watch, but in the long run the name characterization will not change the obstacles ahead for FireFly.

    I wish them the best !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ab Manan Mansor

    Yes I believe it will. The reasons:- (i) the fare is below RM 88.00 for return which is the same a coach fare to Singapore (ii) departure at the old KL airport where population is, compared to current KLIA which is about one hour drive from KL – save time money and (iii) flight is about 55 minutes which is almost the same as MAS and Air Asia which is about 40 minutes (iv) the hourly opearting cost of ATR 72 is about one tenth of that A320 or B 737.

    It is good news for consumers for both countries.

  • sunrisedatacare
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