More passengers allowed to transit at Changi Airport

Allowing more regional transit travellers a small step to help boost Changi and SIA

The SIA Group had earlier received approval for transit flights from some other countries, including Australia, China, Italy and Switzerland. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

A small but significant step will see more footfalls return to Changi Airport, which has seen passenger numbers dry up in the wake of the global pandemic.

The additional traffic will come in the form of transit passengers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, who will now be able to transit at Changi Airport via Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group's flights.

This comes just a week after the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) approved SIA's application to fly in transit passengers from Vietnam and Cambodia.

The five countries are the first from the region whose departing passengers are allowed to transit here after border restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 were slightly eased in June.

In the last two months, SIA has also obtained approval to fly in transit passengers from countries such as Australia, China and Italy.

The gradual opening up to transit passengers is another in a series of steps taken to help Changi and SIA get on their feet again after the pandemic wiped out demand for air travel. Airports and airlines worldwide are struggling with the impact.

"These are still baby steps though, but will hopefully reignite aircraft and passenger movements at the airport," said Mr Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics.

The Changi air hub is seen as a crucial part of the Singapore economy. It had been contributing more than 5 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and employing 192,000 people.

Now, it is among the worst-hit segments of the economy, with the transportation and storage sector shrinking at an annualised rate of 80 per cent, in the second quarter of the year, compared with the first.

The latest approval means that the SIA Group will fly transit passengers through Singapore from Bangkok as well as three Indonesian cities - Jakarta, Medan and Surabaya - and four Malaysian cities - Ipoh, Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

An SIA Group spokesman said: "While this is a positive development, the situation nonetheless remains extremely fluid and challenging for the group.

"The group currently operates an average passenger capacity of about 7 per cent, as compared to our capacity in January 2020 before the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak."

Remote video URL

Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation said transit traffic from the five South-east Asian countries will be limited due to all the lingering restrictions on international travel.

"Until South-east Asia can establish meaningful travel bubbles with each other and the rest of the world there will be limited demand for transiting Changi and Changi will not be able to restore its former status as one of South-east Asia's leading hubs," he said.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung had said last week that even at its peak, transfer and transit passengers accounted for at most only a third of Changi's passenger traffic.

At the moment, there are only about 400 transit and transfer passengers passing through Changi Airport daily, which equates to about 150,000 such passengers a year as compared with the pre-Covid-19 levels of almost 20 million a year. It is not known what this number will rise to, once the transit flights with Singapore's regional neighbours start operating.

To revive the ailing local airlines and airport, Mr Ong suggested that Singapore could consider introducing reciprocal green lanes at Changi Airport for tourists from countries where the Covid-19 situation is similar to or better than that in Singapore.

If implemented, it would replace the current quarantine requirements with a stringent testing regime.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2020, with the headline More passengers allowed to transit at Changi Airport. Subscribe