SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Changi Airport Group (CAG) is directing its focus towards air cargo, amid a significant reduction in passenger flights due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Changi Airport reported a 70 per cent plunge in passenger numbers in March from a year ago, as the virus continues to pummel global aviation.
To maintain the distribution of vital supplies worldwide, freighter carriers are now operating round the clock to fulfil global demand, while passenger airlines are narrowing the capacity gap by deploying their aircraft for cargo-only flights, CAG said on Wednesday (April 22).
At Changi Airport, freighters used to carry about 35 per cent of Changi's air cargo volume, CAG noted. They make up close to 90 per cent of cargo traffic at Changi today.
About 20 carriers, including Singapore Airlines (SIA), Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, have launched cargo-only flights using passenger aircraft to some 30 destinations from Singapore.
Some types of cargo being transported include chilled meat and medical supplies. According to CAG, the first chartered flight from Auckland to Singapore arrived at Changi Airport on Wednesday morning, carrying over 20,000 kilogrammes of chilled meat.
In addition, freighter operators such as SIA and SF Airlines have been involved in humanitarian and relief missions due to Covid-19, carrying critical medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, test kits and masks, to and through Changi Airport.
"For the first time, SpiceXpress' freighter services between India and Singapore have also facilitated the transport of air cargo encompassing medical and essential supplies to support India's fight against the ongoing pandemic," CAG noted.
To cope with the increased workload, ground handling agents dnata and Sats have been working round the clock on flexible shifts, CAG said.
dnata has redeployed staff from other departments such as customer services and ramp services to support air cargo.
Meanwhile, Sats has been working closely with the Singapore Food Agency to "diversify their sourcing network and strengthen Singapore's food supply resilience", CAG added. On March 19, Sats managed to activate its eggs supplier with a lead time of two days and expedite the shipment of 300,000 eggs into Singapore.
Said Lim Ching Kiat, CAG's managing director of air hub development: "Airfreight has proven to provide the agility, speed and utmost care required in handling pharmaceuticals and perishables, which are especially crucial during this time.
"The additional cargo flights help to meet airfreight demand and mitigate supply chain disruptions. The continuity of the air cargo business is essential for fighting the ongoing pandemic, as well as supporting regional economies and local communities."
Home to 30 freighter airlines, Changi Airport registered over two million tonnes of airfreight throughput in 2019. For the first quarter this year, 453,000 tonnes of airfreight throughput was handled at Changi Airport.
As at 10.49am on Wednesday, SIA shares were trading at $5.93, down $0.08 or 1.3 per cent, while Sats shares were trading at $3.01, down $0.05 or 1.6 per cent.