92% of SIA and Scoot pilots, 86% of crew back in the skies; all fully vaccinated by December

SINGAPORE - Almost all of Singapore Airlines Group's pilots and cabin crew are taking to the skies again, as the carrier prepares to quickly ramp up capacity in response to a recovery in air travel.

Group chief executive Goh Choon Phong said on Friday (Nov 12) during a briefing for the company's half-year results that 92 per cent of the group's pilots and 86 per cent of cabin crew are now flying.

He noted that the proportion of crew and planes that are back in service is significantly higher than the passenger capacity that the group is operating at.

SIA Group is currently operating at about 37 per cent of the capacity it had before the pandemic, and this is expected to rise to 43 per cent in December.

Explaining the difference in numbers, Mr Goh said: "Such an arrangement would allow us to react very quickly to changes in the market and therefore any revenue opportunities that may arise."

The crew moves by SIA Group, which comprises flag carrier SIA and its budget arm Scoot, come amid a promising start to recovery in air travel brought about by Singapore's announcement of vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) with 16 countries.

Most of the crew are deployed on at least one flight a month to maintain up-to-date knowledge of the operations.

A total of 135 SIA and Scoot planes, or 79 per cent of the carriers' combined fleet, are back in operation.

Mr Goh added that all of SIA's active cabin crew and pilots are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Scoot's crew and pilots will likewise be fully vaccinated by December.

Meanwhile, some of the cabin crew and pilots who are not back to flying yet are either deployed to other parts of SIA Group or put on voluntary no-pay leave. The others are deployed to other organisations, such as hospitals.

"We expect that gradually, they will come back, but there is no definite timeline at the moment," said Mr Goh.

On SIA's outlook, Mr Goh said the VTLs started by Singapore since September had brought about a meaningful restart of travel.

The Republic has started VTLs with 12 countries such as Britain and the United States. Four more VTLs, including with South Korea and Malaysia, will start later this month.

The scheme lets vaccinated travellers enter Singapore without having to serve quarantine. Travellers are required to fly in on designated flights, and have to meet other conditions such as testing negative for Covid-19.

SIA Group will operate VTL flights from 21 cities in 14 of the countries that Singapore has set up VTLs for.

Mr Goh said the designated flights have registered a sevenfold increase in bookings since the announcement of the first VTLs with Germany and Brunei on Aug 19.

He said SIA Group has almost 160,000 VTL ticket bookings for the next three departure months. There has been especially strong demand for premium cabins, he added.

In response to a question about how the European Union's move to recommend border curbs for travellers from Singapore would affect the carriers, SIA executive vice-president for commercial Lee Lik Hsin said the airline is still assessing the impact.

He said it does not necessarily imply looming border restrictions, given that it is a guidance that EU countries do not necessarily have to follow.

"Some may, for example, choose to put in place testing if there was no testing in place previously, and that doesn't really impact the demand," said Mr Lee.