More cargo and passenger flights at Changi Airport as traffic picks up amid Covid-19

Passenger flights to 70 cities are now available, up from a low of 24 in mid-April last year at the height of the pandemic.
Passenger flights to 70 cities are now available, up from a low of 24 in mid-April last year at the height of the pandemic.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The recovery of Changi's aviation hub remains a work in progress, though cargo traffic has picked up and more flight connections are available for passengers.

Passenger flights to 70 cities are now available at the airport, up from a low of 24 in mid-April last year at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of connections, however, remains at less than half of the 160 cities before the pandemic. Passenger load is also lagging far behind, at just three per cent of previous levels.

Mr Daniel Ng, director of air transport at the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, disclosed the figures in response to queries from The Straits Times.

Cargo traffic though has recovered to near pre-pandemic levels.

Changi is now connected by cargo flights to 73 cities, with the throughput in April at 92 per cent of the levels before the pandemic.

Mr Joshua Ng, director of Alton Aviation Consultancy, said: "While traffic has declined significantly, Singapore has been able to maintain hub connectivity, as measured by the number of unique routes to and from the airport.

"This is as compared with other peer Asia-Pacific airports that are highly dependent on international traffic, but it has performed less well against Middle Eastern peers using the same measure."

He cited data from OAG Aviation, a flight data and analytics provider. The data, which compares airport hubs and unique passenger destinations, showed Singapore's passenger flight links currently exceeds that of Hong Kong (56) and Taipei (45).

Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation noted that while Changi has recovered more of its network than other hubs in the Asia Pacific region, it has not recovered more in terms of passenger numbers.

"International traffic in South-east Asia has stalled at about 3 per cent of normal levels, so Changi is doing what South-east Asia is doing overall in terms of international traffic," said Mr Sobie.

"With virtually all borders closed in the Asia-Pacific, there is very little demand for international traffic. The outlook for the next few months remains bleak," he added.

He expected overall traffic for this year at Changi to be even lower than last year. A more significant level of recovery was likely in 2022, and a full recovery would take at least a few years, he said.

Mr James Jordan, a senior associate who specialises in aviation issues at international law firm HFW, said the recovery of cargo traffic at Changi was encouraging. But he noted that it was weaker than the 12 per cent growth in global air cargo demand.

Experts said that it was imperative for Singapore to start opening up its border and ease quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers, to revive its air hub status.

Mr Jordan said: "The risk is that Singapore loses its competitive advantage that it has enjoyed, and other airlines and airports try to make a play for its market share.

"From the government's perspective, it may need to decide whether to accept a little bit of risk to facilitate the aviation industry's recovery, because the economic benefits of having Singapore well-connected to the world are significant."