October 31, 2023
SINGAPORE – China reclaimed its spot among Changi Airport’s top five markets in the third quarter of 2023, as the airport continued its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Passenger traffic in September 2023 returned to 89 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with 4.87 million passengers passing through Changi, figures released by Changi Airport Group (CAG) last week showed.
The number of passenger movements in the third quarter from July to September – 15.3 million – also returned to 89 per cent of the same period in 2019.
Changi’s other top markets were Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
CAG releases the exact rankings of its markets when its full-year results are available.
In 2019, China was Changi’s second-largest market in terms of traffic, behind Indonesia.
CAG attributed the rise in passenger traffic to and from China in the third quarter to increased travel during its two-month summer holiday in July and August, as well as the resumption of the 15-day visa-free policy for Singapore citizens entering China in July.
Mr Lim Ching Kiat, CAG’s executive vice-president for air hub and cargo development, noted that passenger traffic to and from China surged in August to half a million travellers passing through Changi Airport, more than seven times the traffic in January 2023 when China’s borders first reopened.
“We will continue to work with airlines to reinstate more city links and strengthen capacity on existing routes, to further strengthen Changi Airport’s connectivity to the rest of the world,” he added.
As at Oct 1, 94 airlines operate more than 6,400 weekly scheduled flights at Changi, connecting Singapore to 151 cities in 49 countries and territories worldwide.
CAG noted that Changi established its first link to Beijing Daxing airport in the third quarter, with China Eastern starting services between both airports on July 20. Singapore Airlines (SIA) will start passenger flights between Singapore and Brussels in April 2024.
SIA Group’s passenger traffic grew 24.8 per cent in September, compared with the previous year.
SIA and low-cost airline Scoot carried a combined total of 2.9 million passengers during the month, up 36 per cent from the year before.
Ms Mabel Kwan, a managing director at aviation consultancy Alton, said the level of passenger traffic at Changi Airport is broadly in line with the average of other countries in the Asia-Pacific.
Comparatively, Hong Kong International Airport lags behind the region, with passenger traffic at 51 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, while Vietnam’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport has become the best-performing airport with fully recovered passenger traffic volumes, she added.
Ms Kwan forecast that Changi will rebound to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2024, at the same time as overall passenger traffic in the Asia-Pacific.
Mr Greg Waldron, Singapore-based Asia managing editor of industry publication FlightGlobal, said Changi Airport is “well on its way to a full recovery” by 2024.
The growth in China’s aviation traffic will play a key part in the airport’s recovery, he added.
However, he flagged that potential challenges, such as rising fuel prices and supply-chain issues for airlines, may place constraints on international air travel recovery.
He said the conflict in the Middle East may expand to involve more countries, pushing up fuel prices further and discouraging passengers from travelling amid geopolitical uncertainty.
Some aviation analysts have highlighted that the last mile, or the remaining 10 per cent, is the most challenging phase of recovery.
Independent analyst Brendan Sobie predicted a slight uptick in Changi Airport’s traffic during the upcoming winter-season travel months, but not a full recovery.
He noted that Changi’s recovery rate has been plateauing since it reached a high of 89.5 per cent in May.
Mr Sobie cited several obstacles to Changi’s full recovery – regulatory issues impeding flights to China and Indonesia, fleet constraints at SIA Group, and slot constraints for some foreign airlines, such as AirAsia, that limit an airline’s ability to operate at an airport at particular timings.
Mr Mayur Patel, head of Asia at global travel data provider OAG Aviation, noted that SIA Group has faced significant hurdles entering the Chinese market due to its inability to secure Chinese regulatory approvals to transfer routes and slots from SilkAir to Scoot. Regional carrier SilkAir merged with SIA in 2021.
With the recent reinstatement of previous SilkAir services to SIA Group’s full service network, he expects that China’s flight capacity will normalise by the middle of 2024, with Changi Airport mounting a full recovery in the second half of 2024.