The first Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight staffed by pilots and cabin crew vaccinated against the coronavirus left Changi Airport yesterday, marking a milestone for the national carrier.
Flight SQ956 took off for Jakarta at 9.30am carrying a crew of 12, and is the first of three departing SIA Group flights with crew who have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Scoot Flight TR606 to Bangkok also left Changi at 9.30am with 11 vaccinated crew members, while SilkAir's Flight MI608 flew to Phnom Penh at 4.25pm with a crew of eight.
The crew members are among more than 52,000 transport workers who have received at least one dose of the vaccine as at Wednesday.
The Ministry of Transport said that more than 39,000 aviation and maritime workers have received their first jab - over 90 per cent of the 43,000 front-liners in both sectors.
More than 14,000 land transport workers have also received the first dose of the vaccine, with the remaining 66,000 scheduled to get their jabs in the coming months.
The SIA Group, which has suffered billions in losses due to the pandemic, said it is among the first airlines in the world to operate flights with fully vaccinated crews.
Noting that the Government has prioritised the aviation sector in the drive to vaccinate Singaporeans and other long-term residents, SIA said this reflected the sector's importance and the national carrier's crucial role in Singapore's economic recovery.
SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong told reporters yesterday that the carrier was operating at just 4 per cent of its pre-Covid-19 capacity at one point, and had to take the painful step of retren-ching thousands of workers, among other measures, to ensure its survival.
No one knows how soon the sector will bounce back, he said, but vaccinations are a step in the right direction.
"Now, it is about how to make sure that we are on top of all the health safety measures... and (be) prepared for whenever the demand comes along," Mr Goh added.
Front-line workers in the aviation and maritime sectors started getting jabs on Jan 13 as part of an operational trial, before the mass exercise began in earnest on Jan 18.
Bus and train workers started getting jabs from Jan 25.
More than 90 per cent of SIA's cabin crew and pilots have signed up to get vaccinated, and more than 85 per cent have already received at least one dose.
Those who have signed up will be fully vaccinated by the end of next month.
Mr Goh said those who choose not to get the jabs, whether for medical or personal reasons, will be deployed as per normal as long as regulations allow them to fly.
On whether it would relax its safety measures going forward, Mr Goh said SIA will be guided by the science and data.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, who spoke to the SQ956 crew members before their flight yesterday, said the vaccination drive has been "proceeding like clockwork".
He added he is confident that a substantial number of aviation and maritime workers will be fully vaccinated by the end of the month.
However, aviation can recover only with a concerted effort around the world to get people vaccinated, said Mr Ong.
"It is early days. Let's focus on getting our vaccinations rolled out, making sure procedures are done right and flights are kept safe.
"From there, we can start discussing with other countries about what can we do," he added.
Stewardess Goh Yi Ling, 36, who was on the flight to Jakarta, said her mother was anxious for her to get the jab.
"When she knew I got vaccinated, it was a big relief for her."
SIA senior first officer Adrian Pillay, 38, who was also on yesterday's flight to Jakarta, said vaccinated crew members have peace of mind that they are less likely to bring home the virus to their loved ones.
But the father of two said he is mindful of the need to stay vigilant. "Just because I am vaccinated doesn't mean I am not a vector (for the virus). We still need to practise social distancing and basic hygiene," he added.