Changi Airport sees 70% drop in March passenger numbers amid coronavirus pandemic

A near-empty Terminal 3 in Changi Airport last week, after circuit breaker measures kicked in to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Overall, for the first quarter of this year, the airport handled 11 million passengers, a year-on-year fall of 32.7 p
A near-empty Terminal 3 in Changi Airport last week, after circuit breaker measures kicked in to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Overall, for the first quarter of this year, the airport handled 11 million passengers, a year-on-year fall of 32.7 per cent. Since March 23, short-term visitors have not been allowed to enter or transit through Singapore.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Experts say fast recovery unlikely for sector as outbreak continues to pummel aviation worldwide

Changi Airport reported a drop of 70.7 per cent in passenger numbers last month, compared with the same period last year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel global aviation.

The airport handled just 1.65 million passengers last month, compared with 5.63 million in the same period last year.

In the same month, aircraft movements declined by 49.9 per cent to 16,200 landings and take-offs, while airfreight throughput fell by 19.1 per cent to 149,000 tonnes.

"Air travel demand remained significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with all regions recording steep declines in March," Changi Airport Group (CAG) said in a statement yesterday.

During the last seven days of March, passenger movements plunged a staggering 98 per cent compared with a year ago, in line with an 87 per cent drop in flights as governments worldwide walled off their borders.

On March 23, all short-term visitors from anywhere in the world were disallowed entry to or transit through Singapore.

Overall, for the first quarter of this year, Changi Airport handled 11 million passengers, a year-on-year fall of 32.7 per cent.

CAG noted that for this month, the scheduled flights at the airport are 96 per cent less than the number originally scheduled.

Mr Brendan Sobie, independent analyst from Sobie Aviation, said the numbers were "nothing surprising" amid the worsening crisis.

"For the near future, we can expect a prolonged trough with Changi passenger traffic down 98 per cent and the number of passenger flights down 96 per cent," he said.

Owing to the low numbers, Changi Airport Terminal 2 will be suspending operations on May 1 for 18 months, which Mr Sobie said is a sensible move but which also showed it will "likely be a couple of years" before the aviation market fully recovers.

He added that Terminal 4, which now sees virtually zero traffic, could be temporarily closed and then reopened when aviation begins to recover. But that is dependent on when AirAsia - the airline with the most flights in T4 - resumes service, he said. If T4 closes, just T1 and T3 would remain open.

  • 1.65m

    Number of passengers last month, compared with 5.63 million in the same period last year.

    49.9%

    Decline in aircraft movements last month, to 16,200 landings and take-offs.

    19.1%

    Decline in airfreight throughput last month, to 149,000 tonnes.

Mr Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics said the latest figures are depressing, but reflect the reality facing the world's top airports.

"CAG has very quickly (and rightly) suspended operations at T2 for 18 months as they do not see an immediate recovery any time soon. Changi has to persevere as the next few months will be grim," he said, adding it was "perhaps a good time to slow down" construction of the upcoming T5.

 
 
 
 

The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to radically transform the aviation industry, and while governments worldwide are taking action to help their domestic airlines weather the storm, the when and how of recovery are uncertain, at best.

In its latest estimate, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) predicted the coronavirus pandemic will hit global airline passenger revenues by 55 per cent - or US$314 billion (S$447 billion) - this year, compared with a year ago.

"The scale of the crisis makes a sharp V-shaped recovery unlikely," said Iata director-general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac, adding that it will be a more gradual U-shaped recovery, with domestic travel coming back faster than the international market.

Further Iata analysis said 25 million jobs in aviation and related sectors worldwide were in danger, with 11.2 million of them in the Asia-Pacific alone.

The coronavirus has so far spread to nearly 2.16 million people worldwide and claimed more than 144,000 lives.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2020, with the headline 'Changi Airport sees 70% drop in March passenger numbers'. Print Edition | Subscribe