Following the lifting of border restrictions in Singapore for fully vaccinated travellers from around the world in early April 2022, and the removal of pre-departure testing for inbound travellers later the same month, travel to and from the Lion City has rebounded strongly.
The latest set of operating results posted by the Singapore Airlines Group for May 2022 shows that 1.7 million passengers were carried by its two airlines, with passenger load factors of up to 87% seen on flights to and from regions like Europe and the USA – even higher than pre-COVID levels.
Singapore Airlines carried 1,287,000 passengers during the month. That represents 55% of the comparable January 2020 pre-COVID period for SIA and SilkAir combined (2,336,000 passengers).
Scoot carried 419,000 passengers in May 2022, 40% of its January 2020 total of 1,047,000 passengers.
These were significant increases compared to April 2022 totals, representing a 17% passenger traffic increase for the group month-on-month.
Perhaps more relevantly, the two-month increase was 91% compared with March 2022, when Singapore was still relying on its Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) concept to slowly revitalise its aviation hub.
SIA Group Passenger Traffic
March – May 2022
as % of pre-COVID
Note: Pre-COVID comparison is as a % of January 2020 passenger totals
As you can see from the data, Singapore Airlines is now flying more than half its pre-COVID passenger totals (55%), while the group as a whole has reached over 50%, compared to January 2020 levels.
In ramp-up terms, however, it’s actually Scoot that’s seen the biggest boost since borders were relaxed.
The low-cost carrier’s primary markets are in South East Asia, a region that wasn’t blessed with hassle-free VTL options. That led to only around 12% of pre-COVID passenger volumes were being achieved in March 2022.
By May 2022, with Singapore’s borders fully reopened, that had tripled, and Scoot is now carrying 40% of its January 2020 totals.
Group passenger capacity reached 61% of pre-COVID (January 2020) levels in May, comprising 68% for SIA and 52% for Scoot.
A 10% increase to 67% of pre-COVID capacity is slated for the July – September 2022 period, based on the group’s latest financial update.
Load factors are up
As you would expect, the recent rush of travel demand for the SIA Group has led to much healthier-looking load factors for both the mainline and low-cost divisions.
SIA Group Load Factors
March – May 2022
Passenger Load Factor
same month in 2019
Singapore Airlines mainline actually exceeded its typical pre-pandemic load factor in May 2022 (81.5% vs. 79.4% in May 2019), and when you look at the breakdown by region there are some obvious standouts.
Singapore Airlines Load Factors by Region in May 2022 (May 2019 in parentheses)
- N & SE Asia: 67.4% (76.5%)
- W Asia / Africa: 77.0% (82.6%)
- Australia / NZ: 83.1% (81.8%)
- North America: 87.0% (82.5%)
- Europe: 87.1% (79.3%)
As you can see, Singapore Airlines has now surpassed its usual pre-COVID loads to North America and Europe, both regions in which the carrier has more or less fully restored its former capacity.
Flights to and from Australia and New Zealand are also seeing pre-pandemic load factors, and remember this data still doesn’t cover the peak June school holiday period in Singapore.
North Asia, which is unfortunately lumped together with South East Asia in SIA’s monthly statistics, continues to have the poorest performance, due to border restrictions.
“Apart from North Asia, travel demand recovered rapidly across all route regions [in May 2022]”, the airline said.
Changi Airport is at 42% of pre-COVID traffic
Unsurprisingly, passenger totals at Changi Airport across all airlines (not just SIA Group carriers) are also seeing a marked increase, with 2.5 million travellers passing through in May 2022 – 42% of the January 2020 level.
This represents a 28% increase month-on-month, and is more than double the March 2022 total, reflecting the strong pent-up travel demand that was unleashed within weeks of Singapore’s borders being fully relaxed.
For the first week of June 2022, passenger traffic at Changi Airport reached 48% of pre-COVID levels, according to Changi Airport Group.
If you were travelling into or out of Changi in May, it won’t come as much of a surprise to you that the airport was handling an average of 3,300 passengers per hour, a far cry from the 230 passengers per hour one year earlier in May 2021.
While the latest total is still less than half the pre-pandemic volume, remember only two of the airport’s four terminals are open (T1 and T3), so it does seem very busy.
Aircraft takeoffs and landings at the Changi reached 17,100 during May 2022, around 54% of pre-COVID totals.
The airport has even had to reopen a small section of Terminal 2, simply to handle around a dozen daily arrivals and around six daily departures, since 29th May 2022.
Affected departing passengers are still processed through Terminal 3, then take the SkyTrain to T2 at boarding time, but the terminal will also have an operational check-in hall from October this year.
Furthermore, a full reopening of Terminal 4, which can handle 1.3 million passengers per month at full capacity, is scheduled for September 2022.
Initially, 11 airlines will move across to the facility, freeing up space in Terminal 1 and, to a lesser extent, Terminal 3.
Airlines moving back to Changi T4
(in September 2022)
(AK, FD, QZ, Z2)
Changi Airport had planned to restore at least 50% of its pre-COVID traffic levels by the end of this year, but it looks likely this target will be achieved as early as June or July 2022, based on the latest uptick.
Singapore tourism is rising fast
While Singapore’s VTLs did start to provide an increase in foreign tourist arrivals, predominantly they were used by resident long-term pass holders to reunite with family in quarantine-free countries like Germany, the UK and the USA, especially during the initial phases of the scheme.
Since borders were relaxed in April this year, however, international visitor arrivals to the Lion City have really lifted, even surpassing those in other South East Asian nations, according to recent analysis by the Financial Times (subscription required).
Singapore was welcoming around 1.5 million international visitors per month in 2019, so its 418,000 total in May 2022 represents a strong rebound to 28% of pre-COVID totals, for the first full month with no quarantine or testing imposed on vaccinated visitors.
For comparison, Thailand’s tourist arrivals in April 2022 represented only around 9% of its pre-pandemic levels.
Fares are up, award space is down
If you’ve been planning overseas travel for the coming months, you’ll almost certainly have experienced two new (and hopefully temporary) realities – high fares and limited award redemption opportunities.
This has been a function of pent-up travel demand combined with limited seat supply, while airlines ramp up capacity relatively slowly, as highlighted by recent ForwardKeys research examining current travel demand to South East Asia.
In turn, this has also significantly throttled award availability on Singapore Airlines and other carriers, both within the region and to and from the most popular current markets like Europe and the USA.
For example, at the time of writing the first immediately confirmable Business Class Saver award using KrisFlyer miles from Singapore to London on SIA only appears on 17th October 2022, or on 13th November 2022 in the return direction.
The airline will fly over 25,000 Business Class seats in each direction on this route between now and the date the first saver award is currently available, which goes to highlight the enormous demand compared with supply to and from popular cities like this.
That has meant on many routes travellers have been forced to redeem at more expensive Advantage levels, or make a cash booking, instead of redeeming miles.
Don’t forget the KrisFlyer redemption rates themselves are also increasing by 8-15% from 5th July 2022, but you can still lock in awards at current rates (especially for next year, where availability is better) if you book by 4th July.
If anyone doubted that removing quarantine restrictions, testing, lists of approved origin countries and designated flight requirements wouldn’t be the catalyst for recovery in Singapore’s aviation sector – there’s not much doubt now.
Passenger traffic for the SIA Group has practically doubled between March and May 2022, comparing the last full month under VTL restrictions with the first full month where no testing or quarantine was imposed for any vaccinated travellers, arriving from any country, on any flight.
Singapore Airlines is now flying 55% of its pre-COVID passenger volumes, while Scoot has reached 40%, with load factors returning close to pre-pandemic levels in many markets. With the peak Singapore June school holiday period not even reflected in this data, we can be sure of a further increase in next month’s statistics, and hopefully beyond.
Changi Airport’s aim to restore at least half its pre-pandemic traffic volumes by the end of December 2022, at one time thought ambitious, now looks set to be easily achieved by July or so.
Unfortunately constrained capacity is still causing high air fares and putting pressure on award space, a situation that looks unlikely to change for at least the next few months.
(Cover Photo: Grirk / Shutterstock)