Flight quotas mean passenger arrivals from 13 VTL countries likely to be a third of pre-Covid-19 levels

Since Sept 8, Singapore has reopened quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers to and from 13 countries.
Since Sept 8, Singapore has reopened quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers to and from 13 countries.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The 13 countries that Singapore has launched Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) with accounted for 15 per cent of Changi's annual passenger arrivals pre-Covid-19, but VTL quotas mean actual levels will be closer to about 5 per cent.

Transport Minister S. Iswaran said in Parliament on Monday (Nov 1) that there will be about 19 VTL flights daily at Changi Airport once the arrangements with Australia, Switzerland and South Korea kick in later this month, increasing the VTL daily quota from 2,500 to 4,000.

But the quota on VTL flights, with about 200 passengers on each plane, means travel volumes between Singapore and the 13 countries have not fully resumed .

Mr Iswaran said any further increases will depend on the incidence of the virus, the proportion of imported cases and demand for flights.

"We set an overall quota for the VTL scheme as a safeguard to manage the public health risk," he said in response to various MPs' questions on how overall VTL quotas and for individual countries are determined.

"The quota is allocated to airlines operating flights to and from VTL countries based on the plans they submit. The allocation for each country and airline can vary based on demand, but the total will be kept within the overall quota."

Since Sept 8, Singapore has reopened quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers to and from 13 countries, beginning with Brunei and Germany. The remaining countries are Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the United States.

VTL arrangements with Australia and Switzerland will start next Monday. The one with South Korea will begin a week later, on Nov 15.

MPs, including Mr Shawn Huang (Jurong GRC) and Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang), also asked if the Government is working on or expecting more VTLs to be added, including with all Asean member countries.

Mr Iswaran said Singapore is in discussions with several partners and regional neighbours, but that it is more important that the reopening of borders is done well rather than fast.

The incremental steps taken to establish VTLs is informed by the latest public health assessment of the country's or region's Covid-19 situation and the accompanying risks.

"This includes whether key safeguards under the VTL scheme can be effectively implemented, such as whether travellers from the VTL countries can present digitally verifiable and authenticated proof of vaccination as a precondition for entry," he said.

"Safeguarding public health is our utmost priority."

With VTLs as a "pathfinder" to restoring general air travel, the hope is to resume safe two-way quarantine-free travel with countries and regions around the world, said Mr Iswaran.

"As part of living with Covid-19, we must be resolute and press on with the reopening of our borders, while staying vigilant," he added.

"It is crucial to rebuilding and reclaiming our status as an international aviation hub."