32.8% drop in passengers in February at Changi Airport as coronavirus hits Asian air travel market hard

SINGAPORE – Changi Airport saw a 32.8 per cent decline in passenger movements in February compared with the same period last year, as air travel across the world continues to be severely impacted by the ongoing coronavirus health crisis that has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

As of Monday (March 9), the available seat capacity at Changi Airport for March has also fallen by close to 30 per cent of what was originally scheduled.

Airlines have had to cut flights to stay afloat, with travellers fearful of catching the disease cancelling reservations.

The Changi Airport Group (CAG) said in a statement on Friday that the drop fits in with patterns recorded in every other region of the world in February, with the exception of Africa.

Given the perception that the coronavirus originated in Asia, South-east Asia and North-east Asia were most impacted, with the number of people travelling in and out of China almost halving in February – the largest decrease among major markets in Asia.

Hong Kong also saw a 75 per cent drop in passenger movement. The corresponding figure for South Korea is 46 per cent, Taiwan 38 per cent, and Thailand 33 per cent.

Taken together with statistics recorded in January, passenger traffic in the first two months of the year at Changi Airport is 12.9 per cent lower than in the same period last year.

Similarly, aircraft movements were 4.7 per cent lower for January and February combined compared to last year figures.

There was however an increase in the amount of airfreight passing through Changi Airport, which CAG attributed to the “urgent fulfilment of backlogs after a prolonged factory shutdown in China and the extra leap-day year”.

CAG said it will continue to run various promotions to help its tenants, including the Trolls World Tour during the March school holidays.

Singapore Airlines Group has cancelled more than 3,000 return flights from February through May due to weak demand, and has frozen hiring as it faces an excess manpower situation of more than 500 cabin crew members and 50 pilots.

In a note from SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong to SIA staff seen by The Straits Times in February, Mr Goh said virtually all of Asia’s main airline groups will be unprofitable in the first half of this year.

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