Changi Airport News Scoot SilkAir Singapore Airlines

SIA passenger traffic down 65% in March, warns on “substantial” fuel hedging loss

Statistics for March 2020 tell a largely anticipated story of collapsing passenger numbers, as SIA also begins to formally warn the market of "substantial" fuel hedging losses

Changi SQ Taxiing (CAG)

As the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak began to take hold, new figures from Singapore Airlines and Changi Airport Group highlighting their operating statistics for March 2020 showed a marked drop in passenger levels, with freight throughput at Changi also down by a fifth.

This came as strict travel restrictions were imposed by almost all countries in the region, leading many airlines no choice but to cancel their flights as demand practically evaporated.

Singapore Airlines Group

In its trading update on 15th April 2020, Singapore Airlines wasn’t sugar-coating the situation.

“In the fourth quarter of the financial year 2019-20, the SIA Group confronted the greatest challenge in its history due to the global Covid-19 outbreak, which had an unprecedented impact on its business…

“Market conditions deteriorated rapidly in March 2020…

“The collapse in passenger traffic has had a severe impact on the SIA Group’s revenues.” Singapore Airlines

The net result was a 64.8% fall in passenger traffic across the three group airlines, from 3.1 million in March 2019 to 1.1 million in March 2020.

Airline Passengers (x 1,000) Chg.
Mar 2019 Mar 2020
Singapore_Airlines SIA 1,794 665 – 62.9%
SilkAir SilkAir 403 113 – 72.0%
Scoot Scoot 914 318 – 65.2%
Group 3,111 1,096 – 64.8%

The average passenger load factor fell from 81.5% in March 2019 to 57.4% in March 2020.

Airline Pax Load Factor Chg.
Mar 2019 Mar 2020
Singapore_Airlines SIA 81.0% 55.7% – 25.3 pts
SilkAir SilkAir 75.4% 52.4% – 23.0 pts
Scoot Scoot 85.5% 69.5% – 16.0 pts
Group 81.5% 57.4% – 24.1 pts
A330 Y Service (Sorbis SS)
Gone are the days of full flights. Singapore Airlines had an average load factor of just 56% in March 2020. (Photo: Sorbis / Shutterstock)

As far as cargo is concerned, Singapore Airlines measures all freight carried on its aircraft when it publishes monthly statistics, without separating out the totals carried on its dedicated fleet of seven Boeing 747 freighter aircraft.

“On the cargo front, demand has held up and our freighter aircraft operate as planned. The reduction in passenger operations has, however, significantly reduced overall cargo capacity. As a result, SIA has also been selectively deploying passenger aircraft on cargo-only flights to meet the demand from global supply chains.” Singapore Airlines

75% of cargo carried by SIA each year travels in the underfloor holds of its passenger aircraft, which have been progressively withdrawn from many routes particularly from late March 2020.

As a result, cargo carried reduced from 114.3 million kg in March 2019 to 80.9 million kg in March 2020, a 29.2% fall.

Fuel hedging losses

On a separate note, Singapore Airlines used its March operating statistics release this week to include a trading update, warning of “substantial” fuel hedging losses. There have already been reports of the airline’s extensive jet fuel hedging programme, which will be exacerbated while oil prices remain low.

“In addition, the scale of the flight cuts means that the SIA Group is now in an over-hedged position with respect to fuel consumption. Surplus hedges will need to be marked to market as at 31 March 2020, a date on which the Brent oil price was close to its 10-year low, and are expected to generate substantial losses.” Singapore Airlines

SQ A359 Refuelling (Singapore Airlines)
(Photo: Singapore Airlines)

In the airline’s latest update on its fuel hedging position at 30th January 2020, the group had hedged 51% of its jet fuel requirements for the April 2020 – March 2021 period at US$74 per barrel and 22% of its Brent oil requirements for that period at US$58 per barrel.

On 2nd April 2020 Jet fuel was priced at around US$30 per barrel, while on 31st March 2020 the spot price of Brent crude oil was just US$14.85 per barrel.

The airline has also suffered fuel hedging losses for the last five consecutive quarterly periods, paying more for its hedged fuel than the market rate for well over a year.

SIA Group
Fuel Hedging Losses
Quarter Hedging Loss
Oct-Dec ’18 $81.1m
Jan-Mar ’19 $20.9m
Apr-Jun ’19 $57.1m
Jul-Sep ’19 $19.2m
Oct-Dec ’19 $8.3m

Source: SIA Group quarterly financial results

These are likely to pale into insignificance compared to the financial year 2020/21 figures, assuming oil prices continue to be low.

It remains to be seen if the impact will eclipse Cathay Pacific’s horrific fuel hedging loss of HK$8.46bn (S$1.58bn) in 2016, the primary reason for the Hong Kong carrier’s significant financial deficit that year.

Changi Airport

This morning Changi Airport released its March 2020 operating statistics, which bear a similar tone to SIA’s message earlier in the week.

“Air travel demand remained significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with all regions recording steep declines in March.” Changi Airport Group

In total there were 1.65 million passenger movements at the airport in March 2020, a 70.7% reduction on the March 2019 total of 5.63 million.

Changi T2 (SS)
Changi’s terminals have become deserted, with the airport recently announcing an 18-month closure of Terminal 2 from next month. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The airport operator went on to add that a significant fall was recorded in the last seven days of the month, when government policy moved to prohibit short-term visitors from entering or transiting through Singapore.

From 25th March 2020 to 31st March 2020, passenger totals at Changi were down by 98% compared with the same period in 2019, an almost complete collapse in passenger activity, while takeoffs and landings were down by 87%.

This is likely a primer for what to expect in next month’s statistics for April 2020, where it will be interesting to see whether the airport even records 100,000 passenger movements. The same number were passing through Paya Lebar Airport each month in 1973.

Paya Lebar (National Museum of Singapore)
Paya Lebar Airport (then Singapore International Airport) hosted around 100,000 passengers a month in 1973. Will Changi manage the same in April 2020? (Photo: National Museum of Singapore)

According to flightradar24 data, there were only 70 flight departures from Changi on 1st April 2020, compared with 511 departures on 3rd April 2019, a comparable Wednesday the previous year. During the quiet lunchtime period from 11am to 4pm that day, only 5 aircraft departed (there are usually around 120 departures during this window).

Overall it’s close to the 87% reduction quoted by CAG, and possibly one of the lowest daily totals ever recorded at the airport.

In other Changi news, Terminal 4 looks set to be temporarily shuttered, as it handled its last passenger flight, an Air Asia X service to Kuala Lumpur, on Monday 13th April. Major tenant Cathay Pacific closed its lounge there on 31st March and operated its last departing passenger service from the terminal on Thursday 9th April, before shifting to T1.

More cargo flights, but less cargo

In more positive news CAG reported that new freighter services have been established by:

  • Kalitta Air, four times weekly since 2nd April 2020, to Anchorage, Cincinnati, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Sydney
  • Sichuan Airlines, once weekly since 12th April 2020, to Chongqinq and Nantong
Kalitta 747 (Tomás Del Coro)
US cargo airline Kalitta Air is one of Changi’s newest freight operators. (Photo: Tomás Del Coro)

Unfortunately because CAG also measures cargo throughput at the airport inclusive of all passenger aircraft belly-hold freight, a total drop of 149,000 tonnes (19.1%) was recorded in March 2020 compared to the same month the previous year.

Summary

As increased global travel restrictions progressively came into force during March 2020, passenger traffic at Changi Airport steadily reduced as airlines were forced to cut services, in some cases entirely grounding their fleet.

There is a significant possibility that Changi will record fewer than 100,000 passengers in April 2020, less than it was handling when it first took over from Paya Lebar Airport as the country’s new civil airport in 1981.

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(Cover Photo: Adelaide Airport)

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