Changi Airport hits 50% of pre-pandemic passenger numbers ahead of year-end target

Changi Airport's rebound is driven strongly by passenger traffic to and from the Americas. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The number of passengers that passed through Changi Airport in June exceeded half of pre-pandemic figures for the first time, meeting the 50 per cent year-end target that had been set for the industry earlier this year.

Some 2.9 million passengers departed, transferred or arrived on flights in Changi Airport in June, compared with 5.8 million in June 2019, according to latest figures released by Changi Airport Group (CAG) on Sunday (July 31).

A total of 18,400 flights also took off or landed at the airport. This is 58.6 per cent of the 31,391 flights in June 2019.

Observers said the second half of the year should be even better for Changi Airport, with more people travelling despite some countries reporting new waves of Covid-19 infections, and airlines including national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) ramping up capacity.

The knock-on impact will also benefit the larger tourism sector and the overall economy, even if East Asian markets remain a drag on recovery, they added.

Independent analyst Brendan Sobie of Sobie Aviation said: "50 per cent by year end was always a conservative estimate. We will continue to see a bit of growth every month."

Changi Airport's performance in June comes on the back of a strong second quarter, where total passenger traffic was at 43.6 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, and 14 times the number recorded in the same April - June period last year.

This was mainly due to the holiday season and the reopening of many countries in the region from April.

CAG said its rebound is driven strongly by passenger traffic to and from the Americas, which is already 7 per cent higher than in 2019 after additional flights to Canada were added last December.

Connections to regions outside East Asia including Europe, Oceania and South Asia have also crossed the 60 per cent mark this quarter. A total of 85 airlines now fly from Changi Airport to 130 cities worldwide.

Just two weeks ago, SIA also posted its June operating results, which showed that its passenger numbers in June had reached 60 per cent of pre-Covid-19 numbers.

Flights are also more well booked. Its June load factor, a measure of the number of seats filled per plane, was 85.5 per cent - comparable to the 86.2 per cent load factor in June 2019.

Asia's airports and airlines have seen exponential recovery since many of their home countries opened borders and dropped the bulk of their Covid-19 restrictions in April.

According to data from aviation intelligence firm Cirium seen by The Straits Times, while Asia's airports are still operating at much lower volumes than those in Europe, the Americas and the Middle East, the restoration of some Asian airlines' capacity is fast catching up with or have exceeded their counterparts elsewhere.

SIA, for instance, flew 18,606 flights in the second quarter of this year, around 80 per cent of the 22,948 flights it flew in the same period in 2019.

Air India's flights were also at 90 per cent of 2019, surpassing British Airways' 71 per cent and German airline Lufthansa's 80 per cent.

Cirium analyst Simin Ngai said this is partially due to more severe disruptions at airports in Europe, which has led to flight cancellations. She cited Britain's Heathrow Airport, which has had to impose passenger limits on airlines due to insufficient ground-handling staff.

Mr Sobie said SIA is also ahead of Changi Airport in regaining its connectivity pre-pandemic, because it continued to operate many of its flights in the last three years. This is despite its load factor being in the single digits in some months, and has meant that SIA has found it less difficult to increase its activities.

Changi Airport's current 50 per cent traffic is compared to the nearly fully functioning Hamad International Airport in Qatar and Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.

Heathrow Airport is at 83 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity as at May; the United States' John F. Kennedy International Airport is at 92 per cent; and Australia's Sydney Airport is at 88 per cent.

Asia is the slowest region globally to open up and passenger traffic is still at 22 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, though this should rapidly increase to over 70 per cent by year end, even without important East Asia markets like China and Hong Kong opening, the International Air Transport Association has said.

Mr Mayur Patel, head of Asia at OAG Aviation expects Changi Airport's capacity to take another 18 to 24 months to return to pre-pandemic levels, with global economic outlook and heightened geopolitical risk from the Russian-Ukraine war possibly postponing recovery.

Mr Lim Ching Kiat, CAG's managing director for air hub development, said: "The reopening of Terminal 4 and partial opening of Terminal 2 will give us the capacity to support our airline partners' efforts in restarting services and launching new routes."

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