The 11 countries under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme accounted for about 10 per cent of Changi Airport's passenger traffic before the pandemic, Transport Minister S. Iswaran said yesterday.
And while the expanded scheme will allow about 3,000 travellers to enter Changi a day - a far cry from before Covid-19 - it will still be a significant step from now, he added.
Mr Iswaran was responding during an interview with The Straits Times to a question on the extent to which the additional nine countries on the VTL scheme would boost Singapore's aviation and tourism industries, given that they are not the Republic's top markets in terms of international passenger arrivals.
From Oct 19, vaccinated travellers will be able to fly to Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the United States. The scheme will be extended to South Korea from Nov 15, for a total of 11 countries, including Germany and Brunei.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) announced yesterday that unvaccinated children up to age 12 will now be allowed to travel quarantine-free on these VTLs. They will not be able to enter South Korea and Brunei, however.
Mr Iswaran said the 11 countries are an important set of partners.
"They are among our top 20 trading partners, and they have got sizeable business communities and families here in Singapore. So, it is important that we reconnect with them," he said.
"In terms of the other countries, including those that are major sources for us, we continue to be in discussions to find ways to move forward," he added.
Singapore Tourism Board figures show that the US, South Korea and Britain were Singapore's eighth, ninth and 10th largest markets in terms of international visitor arrivals in 2019. The top three were China, Indonesia and India.
Mr Iswaran described the VTL scheme as a "pathfinder" towards the goal of ensuring international aviation can continue to grow safely and in a manner that gives everyone confidence.
"If we can all work together, then there is a good chance that we can further enhance these vaccinated travel lanes, whether it is in terms of coverage or capacity," he said, adding this will help restore Singapore's reputation as an international aviation hub.
Mr Daniel Ng, director of air transport at CAAS, said the 3,000 VTL travellers a day on average include short-term visitors, long-term pass holders as well as Singapore citizens and permanent residents. "We will monitor the Covid-19 incidence rates, observe the demand and adjust the quota if needed," he said.
He added that both Singapore-based and foreign airlines have been invited to operate designated VTL flights, and that they will "announce their plans when they are ready" based on their own commercial considerations.
Separately, Singapore Airlines yesterday announced that it will add VTL flights to its line-up for the year-end holiday season, allowing more North American travellers to enter Singapore quarantine-free.
From Dec 2 to Feb 15, the national carrier will operate twice-weekly VTL flights from Seattle and Vancouver to Singapore.
It will also convert its daily non-stop service from San Francisco to Singapore to a VTL flight, starting on Oct 20. It will continue operating non-VTL flights from San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver for customers who are not eligible for the VTL option. Tickets for the Singapore-Vancouver-Seattle service go on sale at noon today.
SIA currently operates VTL flights from Bandar Seri Begawan, Frankfurt and Munich. The additions will expand the SIA group's VTL network to 17 cities, including Seoul, London and New York.