SIA traced its roots to an organization called Malayan Airways that offered its first commercial passenger service in May 1947.Today, SIA is Singapore’s best-known company, and rated consistently as Asia’s “most admired company”(Asian Business, 1997,p. 24). Its smiling, willowy cabin attendant, outfitted in tight batik sarong kebaya designed by renowned fashion house Pierre Balmain, and marketed as the Singapore Girl, is now a well-known international service icon. In 1994, the year she celebrated her 21st birthday, the Singapore Girl became the first commercial figure to be displayed at the famed Madame Tussaud’s Museum in London. Madame Tussaud’s had unveiled the waxwork of the SIA’s global marketing icon that year to reflect the ever-growing popularity of international travel. SIA is widely reckoned by those in the airline industry, travellers as well as its competitors, as one of the very best airlines in the world, judging from the numerous industry awards it has won. According to the Business Traveller – Asia Pacific, SIA has become “the standard by which all other international airlines are judged” (Business Traveller – Asia Pacific, 1997a, p. 3). SIA also consistently leads the industry in profitability and rides through “rough and turbulent” times much better than most of its rivals. It has had an impressive and continuous profit streak since it took to the skies some 25 years ago; a track record almost unheard of in the brutally cyclical airline industry (Asian Business Review, 1996, p. 34). On 1 May 1997, SIA turned 50 and celebrated its Golden Jubilee Anniversary in grand style. It was a far cry from its humble beginnings in 1947 when it started life as part of Malayan Airways.
The airline industry had traditionally remained fragmented primarily due to the limiting effects of national and international regulations. Enforced in the form of landing rights and associated competitive constraints, even large airline companies had only been able to develop dominance over their own regional markets at best. With the exception of the United States, dominant national flag carriers, typically owned by the national governments, had remained the only international representatives of their countries. However, the competitive dynamics in this industry had started to change dramatically in recent years. Deregulation, privatization, and the advent of new technologies have started to reshape the industry on a global level. The United States deregulated its airlines in 1978 and had since witnessed heightened competition and aggressive jockeying for market position. Europe entered the throes of a similar escalation of competition following the creation of the European Union and the disbanding of country-specific barriers to free market competition among air carriers. In Asia, deregulation occurred in fits and starts with some major regions allowing greater access to foreign carriers. For example, India, a regional market of some significance, announced that it would privatize its state-owned airline company. It had already allowed its traditionally domestic airline to compete against its international air carrier in many of the regional markets comprising neighboring countries.
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