Singapore Airlines' regional offshoot Silk Air begins flights between Darwin and Singapore today.
The Darwin-Singapore service kicks off with four weekly flights by SilkAir, which travellers will be pleased to hear is a full-service premium airline with a true business class cabin and service.
SilkAir's flight MI802 will leave Darwin on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the rather ungodly hour of 2.30am, arriving into Singapore Changi Airport at an only slightly more sane 5.30am.
(If you're stopping at Singapore rather than connecting to elsewhere, good luck getting an early check-in at your hotel – in fact you'll probably end up booking your room starting the day before).
The return leg, MI801, will depart from Singapore at 7.30pm for wheels-down at Darwin around 1.45am.
Silk Air's schedule "is very much focussed on North Asia, South-East Asia and London/Frankfurt connectivity" says Jim Parashos, Director of Airline & Airport Services for Northern Territory Airports.
"In working with Silk Air to develop the business plan, we undertook customer surveys of the local Darwin market, which highlighted that connectivity over Singapore was the highest priority, as was arriving at your destination between 11am and 4pm" Parashos explains.
"Hence the 5.30am arrival into Singapore allows for connections within 2-4 hours to the top markets from Darwin."
Virgin Australia starts Darwin flights next week...
Virgin Australia's daily Sydney-Darwin service begins next Monday, April 2, but is more about adding the top-end capital to Virgin's network map rather than feeding into the Silk Air flights.
Virgin's direct service will depart Sydney at 9.40am and arrive at Darwin at 1.50pm. The return flight leaves Darwin at 2.40pm for wheels-down into Sydney at 7.25pm.
The service puts another pin in Virgin's Australian network map, as the top end capital has previously been served only by Qantas and Jetstar for domestic flights. Virgin also plans to open a new lounge at Darwin Airport in 2013.
Merren McArthur, Virgin Australia Group Executive of Alliances, Network & Yield Management, says the airline's new Sydney-Darwin service "will be attractive to business travellers who now have the option of a quality business class service from Sydney to Darwin and on to Singapore and beyond. The alliance with Singapore Airlines enables us to open up important new routes in Australia and Asia."
... but it's not good for Silk Air connections
However, when Virgin says the schedule "will complement the new services between Darwin and Singapore which will be operated by Singapore Airlines’ subsidiary, Silk Air", be warned this is not as much about 'connections' as travellers are used to – there are 12 hour gaps between the Virgin and Silk Air flights.
"The Virgin Australia schedule is very much focussed on domestic traffic, as well as US and NZ connections" explains Parashos.
"Inbound traffic, say from Asia or Europe to Darwin, will now have a partner airline connection to Sydney to facilitate 'open jaw' traffic" Parashos says ('open jaw' means a booking in which the traveller's inbound and outbound flights are from different cities).
Virgin Australia will also open a lounge at Darwin Airport – with lounge access available to all business class travellers and high-status frequent flyers of Virgin's many partner airlines – although Virgin Australia exec Martin Daley told Australian Business Traveller that the Darwin lounge won't be open until 2013.