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SIA records highest monthly passenger total since COVID-19 restrictions

SIA Group airlines carried 85,200 passengers in December 2020, the highest total since schedules were cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SIA Group carriers carried 85,200 passengers in December 2020, according to a recent update, noting demand was “gradually returning”. This represents the highest monthly total since the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic almost completely obliterated passenger numbers in April 2020, and was also a 40% monthly increase on the November 2020 total.

However, despite the promising uptick, December 2020 totals remain significantly lower than usual levels, at around 2,700 passengers per day across the three group airlines. That’s a 98% drop compared to the same month a year earlier.

“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, as well as further waves of the Covid-19 infection that continued into the Northern winter season.”

Singapore Airlines, December 2020 Operating Results

Cargo carriage, on the other hand, continues to break load factor records for the group, with SIA Cargo also gearing up to provide global COVID-19 vaccine shipments in the months ahead.

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SIA Group
Operating Results: Jan-Dec 2020
  Passengers
(‘000)
Passenger
Flights
Load
Factor
Jan 2020 3,383 16,428 84.5%
Feb 2020 2,184 13,610 69.1%
Mar 2020 1,096 8,159 57.4%
Apr 2020 10.8 356 9.1%
May 2020 9.6 363 8.6%
Jun 2020 17.7 505 12.2%
Jul 2020 33.9 620 21.6%
Aug 2020 39.8 791 18.8%
Sep 2020 42.6 903 17.2%
Oct 2020 49.0 1,068 15.8%
Nov 2020 61.4 1,435 14.2%
Dec 2020 85.2 2,053 13.7%

While passenger numbers are still nowhere near normal, it’s a far cry from May 2020 when the group only ferried 9,600 passengers across all three airlines, around 300 per day.

Load factor suffered in recent months, as the group airlines aggressively increased their passenger flight volumes by doubling flights in a three-month period between September and December last year.

That led to a group-wide load factor of just 13.7% in December 2020, meaning fewer than 1 in 7 seats was occupied.

For the full year, SIA Group airlines carried a little over 7 million passengers, 6.7 million (96%) of whom flew in the first three months of 2020, just as the COVID-19 outbreak was starting to have an impact.

Let’s take a look at how each carrier fared in the final month of a year they’d rather forget.

Singapore Airlines

SIA welcomed over 2 million passengers on board its aircraft in December 2019, in excess of 60,000 per day.

In contrast, a year later, the mainline carrier flew only 64,600 passengers in December 2020 on 1,406 passenger flights – an average of just 2,100 passengers per day and the equivalent of around 46 passengers on every flight.

Nonetheless, these statistics are an improvement on recent months, and a far cry from May 2020’s low point of 8,600 passengers (280 per day, 29 on average per flight).

SQtrans small

Operating Results: December 2020
(vs. December 2019)
  December
2019
December
2020
Chg.
Capacity
(ASKs)
11,476.5 2,529.5 -78.0%
Passengers
(‘000)
2,037.7 64.6 -96.8%
Passenger
Flights
~8,200 1,406 -82.9%
Load
factor
87.5% 14.0% -73.5 pts

Overall a 96.8% drop in passengers was recorded against December 2019, when times were ‘normal’.

Passenger capacity when measured by Available Seat km (ASKs) was down 78.0%, but was down 82.9% when measured by flight volumes.

Load factor dropped from 87.5% to 14.0%, meaning social distancing wasn’t an issue – the average passenger still had 7 seats to themselves.

Load factors by region in December 2020 were as follows (November 2020 load factors shown in brackets):

  • West Asia & Africa: 17.0% (14.0%)
  • Europe: 14.7% (13.3%)
  • Australia / NZ: 14.0% (17.1%)
  • USA: 13.5% (11.3%)
  • East Asia: 12.5% (12.8%)

With a one-fifth increase in passenger flights between November and December 2020, it’s quite impressive to see the load factors in December more or less held up to those seen the previous month.

The busiest flights were to and from the West Asia & Africa region, which encompassed Colombo, Dhaka and Johannesburg in December 2020. These had a 17% passenger load factor.

SilkAir

SilkAir carried 9,100 passengers on an increased network of 185 flights during December 2020, giving the carrier an average of 49 passengers on each service.

“SilkAir’s passenger carriage decreased by 98.2% year-on-year against a 95.9% cut in capacity. This led to a 47.7 percentage point decline in [passenger load factor] to 36.6%. SilkAir continued to operate flights to Cebu, Chongqing, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Medan, and Phnom Penh, while adding Male and removing Penang to the list of destinations served.”

Singapore Airlines, December 2020 Operating Results

MI logo

Operating Results: December 2020
(vs. December 2019)
  December
2019
December
2020
Chg.
Capacity
(ASKs)
911.9 37.7 -95.9%
Passengers
(‘000)
438.3 9.1 -97.9%
Passenger
Flights
~3,500 185 -94.7%
Load
factor
84.3% 36.6% -47.7 pts

Load factors by region in December 2020 were as follows (November 2020 load factors shown in brackets):

  • East Asia: 35.8% (37.6%)
  • West Asia: 37.7% (35.9%)

SilkAir continues to have the best passenger load factors in the group, in part benefiting from operating smaller Boeing 737-800 aircraft on limited frequencies from as little as once per week.

Scoot

In December 2020 SIA’s low-cost subsidiary Scoot operated an expanded network of 462 passenger flights, carrying 11,500 passengers (compared to 8,600 passengers in November 2020).

That represents Scoot’s busiest month since the COVID-19 schedule cuts earlier in the year, and a 34% monthly increase.

“Scoot’s passenger carriage declined 98.8% year-on-year against a contraction in capacity of 88.6%, which led to a [passenger load factor] of 9.3%. Scoot served 18 destinations (excluding Singapore) in December, with the addition of services to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Wuhan and Zhengzhou, while flights to Kuala Lumpur were temporarily suspended. Operations to West Asia and Europe remained suspended.”

Singapore Airlines, December 2020 Operating Results

TZtrans

Operating Results: December 2020
(vs. December 2019)
  December
2019
December
2020
Chg.
Capacity
(ASKs)
3,328.5 377.9 -88.6%
Passengers
(‘000)
1,068.4 11.5 -98.9%
Passenger
Flights
~5,300 462 -91.3%
Load
factor
88.7% 9.3% -79.4 pts

Load factors by region in December 2020 were as follows (November 2020 load factors shown in brackets):

  • Australia: 3.2% (5.6%)
  • East Asia: 12.9% (18.4%)

The low total to and from Australia came about as Scoot ceased its three times weekly Perth services but ramped up to daily Melbourne flights, using its largest capacity aircraft (Boeing 787-9s), likely to take advantage of underfloor cargo capacity rather than passenger demand.

On the rest of the Scoot network within Asia, load factors suffered despite increasing passenger numbers as the airline significantly expanded from around 20 departures per week from Changi in November to over 50 departures per week last month.

Transit passengers

The SIA group is continuing to benefit from transit passenger approval through Singapore, once representing around a third of traffic totals but based on the latest reports in August / September 2020 now making up only around 10-15% of volumes.

Even with one of SIA’s key transit markets, London to Australia and New Zealand, withdrawn from the transit approval due to a new wave of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom, the airline has been inventive and worked with regulators to provide the option again for customers within days of its withdrawl.

The new process requires passengers who boarded flights in London to remain on board during the 90-minute to 2-hour transit at Changi, before continuing their journey on the same aircraft to either Auckland or Sydney.

Cargo

One saving grace for the SIA group continues to be cargo, with the collective freight load factor across all carriers in the group up from 59.1% in December 2019 to an impressive 88.7% in December 2020.

Even on a monthly basis, this is a good increase from the 85.5% recorded in November 2020.

SQ A350 AKL Cargo (Jordan Tan)
A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 operating a cargo-only service to Auckland. (Photo: Jordan Tan)

Cargo volumes themselves fell, however, from over 111 million tonnes in December 2019 to 72 million tonnes in December 2020. This is due to the significant reduction in capacity with a large proportion of the airline’s passenger fleet either grounded or flying less frequently than usual.

“For the seventh consecutive month, SIA Cargo recorded a cargo load factor in excess of 80%. December’s level of 88.7% was 29.6 percentage points higher year-on-year, as cargo traffic (measured in freight tonne-kilometres) declined 25.5% on the back of a capacity contraction of 50.4%. All route regions continued to record year-on-year increases in [cargo load factor] during the month.”

Singapore Airlines, December 2020 Operating Results

Growth in 2021

Singapore Airlines used its December 2020 Operating Results update to provide an optimistic view for recovery of the business in 2021, noting that passenger capacity was heading towards 25% of previous levels by March and that further increases are in the pipeline.

“In line with Singapore’s progressive re-opening, as well as the gradual vaccination of the population across the world, we expect to see a measured expansion of the passenger network.”

Singapore Airlines, December 2020 Operating Results

Although the Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble never got going, and still has no confirmed start date at the time of writing, we too are hoping for some further travel agreements to be forged in the months ahead, though realistically it remains difficult to see any significant overseas travel opportunities until the second half of 2021.

Ona big drive for the airline this year will be vaccine shipments for SIA’s Cargo division.

“SIA Cargo has been preparing for [distributing vaccines globally] over the last few months together with relevant stakeholders in Singapore and overseas. In December 2020, we marked an important milestone when SIA Cargo flew in the first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines to Singapore onboard a Boeing 747-400 freighter.”

Singapore Airlines, December 2020 Operating Results
Singapore’s first vaccine shipment arrived via an SIA Cargo Boeing 747-400 on 21st December 2020. Photo: (Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information)

These shipments can take advantage of Changi’s cold-chain facility, Coolport, during transit or before distribution in Singapore itself.

Summary

Without any significant change to strict border restrictions by the end of 2020, the SIA Group’s passenger totals remained very low in December compared to usual levels, however the recent capacity increases have led to the highest passenger totals for all three airlines in nine months.

It’s a shame the Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble didn’t go ahead as planned, since this would have potentially bumped the passenger numbers up by another 10,000 or so.

Group passenger capacity (by ASKs) was at 18.7% of normal levels during the month, and this is set to further increase to 25% by March 2021. There remains some significant capacity difference by division, with Singapore Airlines restoring the largest proportion of its network as of December 2020:

  • Singapore Airlines: 22.0%
  • Scoot: 11.4%
  • SilkAir: 4.1%

Although SilkAir has the smallest proportion of restored capacity, it is in the process of being merged into the mainline carrier, with the first batch of Boeing 737-800s already in the process of being transferred. That may partly explain the group’s focus on restoring SQ-operated services before MI ones.

Some SilkAir Boeing 737-800s have already been repainted in Singapore Airlines colours

Moving into 2021 the SIA Group still sees gradual demand increases and is stepping up capacity to meet that, including for transit passengers through Changi Airport.

Vaccine shipments, both for Singapore and the region, will also assist the airline with an already buoyant cargo market in the months ahead. Let’s hope that also means plenty of COVID-19 vaccinations across the region in 2021, which might be the key to unlocking borders and easing restrictions on leisure travel, including compulsory quarantine and SHN periods.

(Cover Photo: motive56 / Shutterstock)

1 comment

  1. What a misleading headline. It makes it sound all roses and champagne at SIA.
    85.200 pax from 2,053 flights is still a shit result. 😂

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