More than 70% fall in passengers in March at Changi Airport as global aviation takes a beating amid Covid-19 pandemic

During the last week of March, passenger movements plunged 98 per cent compared with a year ago. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Changi Airport reported a drop of 70.7 per cent in passenger numbers in March 2020, compared with the same period last year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel global aviation.

The airport handled just 1.65 million passengers in March this year, 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 takeoffs, 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 on Friday (April 17).

During the last seven days of March, the airport said 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 countries.

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

Overall for the first quarter of 2020, Changi Airport handled 11 million passengers, a year-on-year fall of 32.7 per cent.

In the same period, aircraft movements shrank 20.1 per cent to 75,900 while airfreight throughput fell 8 per cent to 453,000 tonnes.

The decrease in passenger flights also corresponded with a dip in airfreight throughput, with both import and export flows slumping.

The CAG noted that for April, the number of scheduled flights at the airport is 96 per cent fewer than what was originally scheduled.

Mr Brendan Sobie, independent analyst of 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.

He however noted there was an uptick in freighter flights at Changi.

Due to 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 highlighted the expectation it will "likely be a couple of years" for the aviation market to fully recover.

He added Terminal 4, which now sees virtually zero traffic, could be temporarily closed and then reopened when aviation begins to recover. That is dependent on when AirAsia - the airline with the most flights in T4 - resumes services, he said.

If so, just T1 and T3 would remain open.

"While it is possible to handle the very limited number of current flights in just one terminal, keeping two terminals open rather than one is sensible to be ready for the initial recovery phase and to avoid too many inconvenient terminal switches for airlines," Mr Sobie noted.

The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to radically transform the aviation industry, and while governments worldwide are taking action to help domestic airlines weather the storm, the when and how of recovery is 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), in 2020, 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 the industry's outlook "grows darker by the day".

It will be a more gradual U-shaped recovery, with domestic travel coming back faster than the international market, he noted.

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

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

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