Passenger movements at Changi Airport cross 1 million mark for first time in 2 years

Industry observers expect further recovery in the coming months. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - About 1.14 million passengers passed through Changi Airport in March, marking the first time the one million mark has been crossed since borders were shut at the onset of Covid-19 two years ago.

This means passenger traffic last month stood at just 20.3 per cent of what it was in March 2019 before the pandemic.

But it is almost six times more than the traffic registered one year ago, signalling that the recovery of the air hub is gathering momentum.

Industry observers expect further recovery in the coming months, after Singapore opened its borders on April 1 to all travellers who are vaccinated against Covid-19.

They expect Changi to reopen at least one of its two currently shut terminals and work to resume on the mega Terminal 5.

Full recovery of passenger traffic, however, will be off the table until China, a major market for Singapore's air hub, reopens its borders.

Changi Airport Group (CAG) announced the March figures in its Changi Journeys publication on Thursday evening (April 21).

Its managing director for air hub development Lim Ching Kiat said: "The further relaxation of travel restrictions since the beginning of April is a positive development for the Changi air hub, and we are encouraged by the continued uptick in passenger traffic."

He said the reopening of Singapore's borders has given airlines the confidence to launch new routes and restart services.

CAG will continue to work with trade partners to stimulate travel and build the airport's connectivity, Mr Lim added.

A total of 13,200 planes landed and took off at Changi Airport in March, up 62.2 per cent from the same period last year.

But airfreight throughput fell by 3.4 per cent to 152,000 tonnes. CAG attributed this fall to supply chain disruptions arising from the Covid-19 situation in Changi Airport's key cargo markets and geopolitical tensions.

In terms of consolidated results for the first quarter of this year, CAG said it recorded a total of 2.56 million passenger movements. This is 15.6 per cent of the figure before the pandemic.

The top five passenger markets were Australia, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Melbourne, Jakarta and London made up the top five city links.

As at April 1, 81 airlines operated more than 2,800 weekly scheduled flights at Changi Airport.

The airport is currently linked to 121 cities across 47 countries/territories by both passenger and cargo flights.

Singapore is looking to restore half of pre-Covid-19 passenger volume by the end of this year. Before the pandemic struck in 2020, 68.3 million travellers passed through Changi Airport.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) had said on Monday that Singapore is on track to achieve the target.

The number of travellers passing through Changi Airport in the past week reached 31 per cent of the average weekly passenger traffic in 2019, on the back of increased traffic driven by the Good Friday long weekend.

Traffic volume had increased for all major markets, with particularly strong growth for traffic to and from Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, CAAS said.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group, which operates SIA and its budget arm Scoot, said this week that its passenger capacity was at 51 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels in March.

This is expected to increase to about 61 per cent by May.

Associate Professor Volodymyr Bilotkach, from the air transport management degree programme in the Singapore Institute of Technology, said March figures reflect that recovery is well on track.

"Travel demand was constrained by travel restrictions," he said.

"Now that they are being lifted, both in Singapore and elsewhere, people have resumed travelling."

He expects Singapore to achieve between half and two-thirds of pre-pandemic traffic within the next month or two.

But it will likely remain at these levels until China and Hong Kong ease their border restrictions, he added.

Prof Bilotkach also said that at least one of Changi Airport's two closed terminals - T2 and T4 - will be reopened to handle the projected traffic as recovery picks up.

Both terminals have been closed for almost two years.

On the mega Terminal 5 project, which has been paused since June 2020, he said: "I do not think that the pandemic should have an effect on T5.

"We are returning to pre-pandemic traffic, and will get back on the growth trajectory."

Mr Kee Bing Han, vice-president of sales in Asia-Pacific at global air travel analytics firm ForwardKeys said its data showed that flights booked out of Changi Airport, from April to December this year, are at 70 per cent of 2019 levels.

Air tickets booked into the airport for the same period are at 43 per cent of 2019 levels. The analysis was based on air tickets booked up to April 15, for travel till end Dec 31.

Mr Kee said: “Travel sentiments are clearly trending up for the rest of the year, despite ongoing geopolitical uncertainties.

“It is no longer a matter of when people will travel, but where people will travel to or from."

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