SINGAPORE — With the COVID-19 pandemic having decimated air travel, Singapore’s Changi Airport has gone from being the seventh busiest airport in the world to the 58th busiest today, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (6 October).
Compared with pre-pandemic times, the iconic airport is serving just 1.5 per cent of its usual passenger volume and 6 per cent of its usual number of passenger flights, said Ong while delivering a Ministerial Statement on the country’s aviation sector. The airport that once offered direct flights to 160 cities now offers them to only 49, he noted.
“Today, we have fewer passengers than when we first opened Changi Airport Terminal 1 in 1981,” said Ong, who pointed to two key companies in the local aviation sector that are facing a “deep crisis”: Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Changi Airport Group (CAG).
‘No’ to SIA environment tax
Ong said that with SIA having recorded its largest-ever quarterly loss in the first quarter of its 2020 financial year, the company is trying its best to “reduce cash burn, preserve core capabilities, and explore all ways to generate revenue”.
Despite these efforts, SIA still had to cut jobs although the number of retrenchments was reduced from 2,400 to 2,000 following an agreement with SIA’s pilots union. “Without the recent major recapitalisation exercise, there would not be an SIA today. It is far from being out of the woods,” said Ong.
The minister also raised the issue of SIA’s proposed flights to nowhere – a plan which has since been scrapped. Replying to questions from Members of Parliament as to whether his ministry would have supported such a move, Ong said that it would always try its best to “support our national carrier in times like this”.
“But what I will not contemplate is to impose on them an environment tax at this time, as Associate Professor Jamus Lim has suggested, because that will worsen the crisis for SIA,” he added in reply to the Workers’ Party MP.
Changi Airport Group
Ong also painted a grim picture of CAG’s situation, highlighting how retailers and restaurants at the airport are seeing far fewer customers, and that many shops there have closed. He added that CAG is dipping into its reserves while trying to preserve cash and retain its core capabilities.
Replying to a question on the plan for Terminal 5, Ong reiterated the government’s decision to take a two-year pause on the project “so that we can have more clarity on the pace of air travel recovery, before deciding how to proceed with the project”.
He pointed to the Jobs Support Scheme, which sees the aviation sector benefitting from the highest tier of support; cost relief afforded through the Enhanced Aviation Support Package; and the temporary worker redeployment programmes as ways the government has been supporting SIA, CAG and other companies in the sector.
“But the most meaningful support we can give to our aviation companies is to restore passenger traffic and revive our air hub, in a controlled and safe manner,” said Ong.
Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore