Asia’s airports at rock bottom as number of passengers plummets 95 per cent

Asia’s airports have reached “rock bottom” almost four months into the Covid-19 pandemic, with the number of passengers at about 5 per cent of last year’s figures, the global airports’ representative has said. Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific said new data up to mid-April from 18 of its hubs in “major aviation markets” showed a 95 per cent collapse in passenger volumes year on year.

Hong Kong International Airport was on track for a 99.5 per cent decline, according to preliminary official data. A combination of worldwide travel restrictions, bans on non-residents, bans on stopovers, and mandatory quarantine measures for arrivals had seen people cancel trips abroad, hitting airlines and airports alike hard, tipping the industry into crisis.

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“Passenger traffic in Asia-Pacific region has reached rock bottom. Airports have been forced to make difficult operational decisions including full or partial closure of terminals and runways, and reduction of frontline employees,” Stefano Baronci, director general of ACI Asia-Pacific, said. “These drastic measures take time to reverse. Returning to full operational status will not happen overnight.” Baronci’s group represents 113 members operating 602 airports in 49 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

The International Air Transport Association said earlier that airlines would face a loss of US$314 billion in ticket sales this year. By early April, its data showed global air traffic had fallen 80 per cent from the start of the year.

Data compiled by the Post also showed Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), which handled 71.5 million passengers in 2019, is on course for a 99.5 per cent erosion in passenger volumes in April, based on daily Immigration Department data of entries and exits through the airport. No transits are allowed through the airport and non-residents have not been permitted to enter Hong Kong since March 25. Up to April 19, HKIA saw 19,454 people enter and exit via immigration control points. In April last year, that figure was 6.46 million.

Meanwhile, Sydney Airport said the first 16 days of this month showed international passenger traffic had collapsed by 96.1 per cent, while domestic volumes tumbled 97.4 per cent.

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HKIA last week reported a 91 per cent collapse in passenger volumes in March, while Singapore’s Changi Airport fell 71 per cent. ACI said there were initial signs of recovery in China based on a gradual resumption of its domestic traffic, and – “to a lesser extent” – from South Korea. “The freedom of movement will have to coexist with the virus, until a vaccine against Covid-19 is available at a global scale,” Baronci said. “The virus has imposed a ‘new normal’ of living on us. A united industry needs to create a ‘new normal’ for travelling.”

The aviation industry is mulling sweeping changes in restarting air travel as it adapts to a post-Covid-19 future. Several airlines across the world, such as Lufthansa, easyJet and Qantas, are planning to leave an empty middle seat. Mandatory Covid-19 tests upon landing at an airport and temperature checks, which Hong Kong has been doing, could be the norm. Sanitising gel and masks could be a common fixture as well. Some travellers are using hazmat suits and plastic sheets to cover the body, along with plastic glasses to avoid catching the deadly virus.

IATA said it anticipated a slow recovery starting in the third quarter of this year. Some airlines have warned a restoration of the pre-crisis traffic may not occur until 2023.



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