Taking the Aviation Sector to the Next Level

Since 2015, SIA has played a pivotal role in helping start-ups achieve success in the aviation sector.

As part of its goal of becoming the world’s leading digital airline, Singapore Airlines (SIA) has been supporting the growth of technology start-ups in the aviation industry through in-house initiatives as well as collaborations with external partners.

SIA’s efforts to do so began in 2015 when it launched an information technology competition, the SIA AppChallenge, targeted at tertiary students keen to make a positive difference in the aviation industry. The contest involved nearly 200 participants coming up with potential solutions to the real-world business challenges of the airline industry.

Another initiative, launched with NUS Enterprise in January 2019, was the 10-week SIA Accelerator Programme, which provided collaborative work­spaces, funding and mentorship for startups to commercialise their innovations to address a range of problem statements identified by SIA.

BiZQ spoke to SIA’s Vice President for Digital Innovation, Jerome Thil, on the airline’s various efforts to support aviation start-ups.

Vice President for Digital Innovation, SIA, Jerome Thil

What is the rationale for SIA’s initiatives to collaborate with start-ups?

Collaborating with start-ups enables us to leverage their innovations and solutions that can help drive our transformation and digitalisation initiatives. The collaboration will also help to grow the overall travel innovation ecosystem. This will bode well for SIA’s drive to be the world’s leading digital airline.

In addition, the collaboration also helps to support SIA’s next transformation chapter to “Lead the New World”. This chapter comprises three key pillars – reinforcing our position as a world-class leader, achieving financial sustainability, and developing a dynamic and resilient team.

Firstly, SIA’s research shows that customers continue to value product quality and service excellence. Health and safety issues have become a big concern for our customers, who are also seeking a seamless and frictionless travel experience. It is therefore important that we aim to lead the industry in all these important areas in order to reinforce our position as a world-class leader.

Secondly, SIA’s priority is to achieve a competitive cost base and strong revenue generating capability. These will help to ensure the viability and financial sustainability of our business in the longer term. Apart from exercising financial prudence, we must be innovative with new revenue streams and businesses. We also need to remain nimble and flexible as we resume flight services and optimise our network, leveraging the right vehicles within our portfolio of airlines.

Thirdly, SIA will continue to develop our people and ensure that all are equipped with the skills needed to remain resilient and future-ready, especially amid the changes we face.

What are some of the key programmes SIA is participating in as part of this effort?

SIA has two key start-up collaboration programmes – SIA AppChallenge and SIA Accelerator.

The SIA AppChallenge began in 2015 as a competition aimed at engaging Singapore-based university and polytechnic students to tackle real-world challenges in the aviation industry. In 2016, the competition included an Open Category where members of the public could also participate. Buoyed by strong support, the competition went global in 2018, attracting over 1,500 participants including start-ups. Since then, it has received innovation proposals from more than 1,200 start-ups, of which 140 have worked with various SIA business mentors on prototyping, proofs of concept or production.

The competition currently has a Start-up and Student Track. In the Start-up Track, early stage start-ups share their solutions for SIA’s business challenges, while being mentored and guided by representatives from SIA, as well as renowned industry partners. Finalists will present their solutions in a Grand Finale where senior management from across the SIA Group will vote for the top three start-ups based on innovativeness and potential of business value generated.

The KrisLab team will work with SIA business units to determine which of the finalists will make it to the SIA Accelerator Programme. The 10-week programme, which first began in January 2019, provides an opportunity to selected start-ups to work with relevant SIA business units on proofs of concept for their solutions. It is also another avenue for start-ups to capitalise on collaborative workspaces, funding and mentorship to productise and commercialise their innovations.

How are innovation initiatives like this particularly relevant during this pandemic situation?

Collaborating with start-ups and further elevating our strong ecosystem will help us to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen Singapore’s position as the aviation hub in the region.

What are the next key steps in this journey?

We are exploring opportunities with deep tech players and universities to solve existing business challenges, which we currently do not have solutions for.