SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group said on Monday (Jan 11) that demand for air travel continued to gradually return last month, as it carried the highest number of passengers since COVID-19 border restrictions were implemented.
Overall passenger carriage, measured in revenue passenger-kilometres, was 97.1 per cent lower year-on-year in December, said the group on Monday.
However, the group ferried about 85,200 passengers in December, the highest number since travel restrictions were put in place in March to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
The aviation industry has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with airlines forced to ground planes and lay off staff. At its lowest last year, SIA Group carried only 9,600 passengers in May.
Before COVID-19, SIA Group had clocked about 3.54 million passengers in December 2019.
The Ministry of Health on May 19 said Singapore would gradually reopen its borders with safeguards in place to allow Singaporeans to conduct essential activities abroad and for foreigners to enter and transit through the country.
It has set up reciprocal green lanes with some countries to facilitate short-term essential business and official travel, and launched an air travel pass to allow short-term visitors from some countries to enter Singapore.
"Demand for air travel continued to gradually return, although passenger numbers remained severely constrained by border controls and the travel restrictions that are still in place in most countries," said SIA on Monday.
Compared with December 2019, the group's passenger capacity last month was down by 81.3 per cent year-on-year. Compared with November, however, the Group’s passenger airlines added about 46 per cent more capacity, "in line with Singapore's progressive reopening", said SIA.
The group reported a passenger load factor of 13.7 per cent in December, down 73.9 percentage points from the previous year.
By airline, SIA's passenger carriage was down 96.5 per cent year-on-year, while SilkAir and Scoot declined 98.2 per cent and 98.8 per cent respectively.
FIRST COVID-19 VACCINE SHIPMENT
SIA on Monday also said that it "marked an important milestone" in December as SIA Cargo flew in the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Singapore.
"As we enter 2021, transporting and distributing vaccines globally will be one of the biggest and most complex public-private logistical tasks in recent history," it said.
SIA cargo traffic in December was down 25.5 per cent year-on-year on the back of a capacity contraction of 50.4 per cent.
It recorded a cargo load factor of 88.7 per cent, an increase of 29.6 percentage points from the previous year. December was the seventh consecutive month that its cargo load factor was more than 80 per cent.
All route regions continued to record year-on-year increases in cargo load factor, the group said.
"MEASURED EXPANSION" EXPECTED
Looking ahead, the group said it expects air travel to gradually recover along with COVID-19 vaccinations across the world and the easing of border restrictions.
The group expects its total passenger capacity to be about 25 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of March.
It also expects to fly to around 45 per cent of the destinations that it served before the crisis.
"This would help to meet the strong demand for cargo services, and put us in a position to benefit from the recovery in passenger travel," said the group.
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In December, SIA added services to Colombo, Nagoya and San Francisco, bringing the number of destinations it served to 39.
SilkAir continued to operate flights to Cebu, Chongqing, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Medan and Phnom Penh. It also added Male and removed Penang from the list of destinations served by the airline.
Scoot served 18 destinations in December, with the addition of services to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Wuhan and Zhengzhow. Flights to Kuala Lumpur were temporarily suspended, while operations to West Asia and Europe remained suspended.