Based on the gradual resumption of global aviation throughout 2021, many countries are easing restrictions to receive tourists. Aviation in general is experiencing its best moment since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic without a shadow of a doubt. Despite the significant improvement, the pandemic itself does not seem to have given the world a break. Cases are not decreasing even as vaccination progresses, and the coming and going of restrictions still calls into question the full resumption of aviation. Even so, it seems that many regions already consider Covid-19 as part of everyday life and things are starting to get less complicated with new features such as masks, vaccination certificates and tests for example.
This artiThe impact on aviation during this period has directly impacted different services in this area. Although the impact on airlines were mentioned, we do not see much information about the impacts on airports. As such, the purpose of this article is to present about airports during the pandemic with a focus in Southeast Asia.
It is interesting to see that like many entities, airports had to adapt to new needs due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, directly affecting their ability to serve passengers. The chart below shows an analysis of how airports lost significant capacity at different stages:
Even more interesting is the fact that some airports had an increase in traffic during the pandemic, exclusively in China and one airport in Russia, which had the biggest increase in the number of flights compared to 2019. This may be due to domestic demand that increased during this period as there were restrictions on international flights. Countries with large areas and populations such as China and Russia showed that domestic demand continued to rise even during this turbulent period. Although the United States had a great domestic demand like China and Russia, this same phenomenon was not observed. Some airports that had more or less the same traffic as in 2019 already appeared in the list:
While some airports had a growth in the number of flights and some others managed to maintain the same traffic levels, the vast majority of airports had a significant reduction in the number of flights between 2019 and 2021, some with a considerable drop as we can see in the image below. The big European airports and followed by Asian airports had a sharp drop in demand:
Let us analyse how some Southeast Asian airports performed in this turbulent period.
As one of the busiest airports in Southeast Asia and the world, Jakarta Airport (CGK), also known as Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, is Indonesia’s main airport. Before the pandemic, the airport had plans to expand to one more terminal in order to increase its capacity. Even though it is still in its plans, it will take a while before it gets off the ground. The airport is managed by Angkasa Pura II which also manages other airports and whose headquarters are at the same airport. In the year 2020 where there was low flight demand, management implemented what they called Business Survival Initiatives, primarily aimed at reducing costs and having tighter control over cash flow. Despite the initiatives to reduce costs, the administration’s goal was to guarantee optimised operation from the year 2020 till now. The moment is still challenging, but the projection is that tourism and business will continue to be very promising in the future, mainly strengthened by Indonesia’s tourism potential, and air transport being the most efficient means of transportation between its islands.
But still, even as early as October 2021, there are still restrictions that make 2021 as challenging as 2020. The Indonesian government still limits the number of passengers on international flights and isolation protocols are still a reality, making international travel still very difficult. As an example, in 30 days measured between mid-September and mid-October, around 56,000 international passengers who needed to be quarantined were received, in addition to the mandatory PCR test. However, these limitations or part of them are about to be lifted and a more optimistic scenario is ahead.
The graph below shows the numbers for 2019, 2020 and 2021 and how demand at the airport fluctuated several times during the pandemic and appears to be on a slight increase again:
The Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN), managed by ACV, Airports Corporation of Vietnam, is the main airport in Vietnam and also one of the busiest in the region and the world, serving the entire Southeast Asia region and also as a bridge to international flights. As can be seen in figure 03 above, there was a significant drop in its traffic until June 2021, which was around 64% less than 2019.
The chart below shows the current situation and compares the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. It is noted that 2021 is still a more difficult year for this airport than it was in 2020, despite 2021 having started with good numbers. A sudden drop was most likely due to the fear of the Covid-19 delta variant:
Singapore Changi Airport – SIN, the main airport in Singapore and also one of the largest in Asia, had higher traffic than SGN airport in Vietnam before the pandemic. Currently however, it has a very low traffic. As illustrated by figure 03, this airport had a 85% reduction in its demand when compared to 2019 numbers. It is considered one of the best airports in the world and one of the most unique airports with modern sculptures, the famous complex Jewel and Canopy Park.
As shown in the graph below, the number of flights at this airport dropped drastically in April 2019 and has since maintained a very low number of flights, with a very slight increase over the months:
Other airports across South East Asia
Southeast Asia obviously still has numerous other airports that serve major airlines in the world and is of great importance to the region as well, as we will see below few more of these airports and their current status in terms of the number of flights.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport, KUL, Malaysia
Located in Malaysia, it is the country’s main airport. It was also a very busy airport before the pandemic, as was SGN and SIN, but had a 90% drop in their flights as indicated in figure 03. As the chart below shows, since the reduction in demand right after the start of the pandemic, the number of flights is still extremely below the 2019 numbers:
Suvarnabhumi Airport, BKK, Thailand
It is one of the busiest in Thailand. As shown in figure 03, there was also a drastic reduction in the number of flights around 86%, and as the graph below shows a growth trend that is still very slow and far from what it was in 2019:
Ninoy Aquino International Airport, MNL, Philippines
The largest airport in the Philippines, also known as Manila International Airport, and like all the other airports presented, has also suffered severely from a reduction in its flight demand. As shown in the graph below, it appears to be showing a slightly more sustainable recovery than the other airports. This however, is still below expectations:
Southeast Asia, aggravated by the pandemic and continuing with the various restrictions aimed at the constant reduction of new cases of Covid-19, does not demonstrate yet a significant recovery in its aviation industry. This may change in the coming months given that some countries in this area are already talking about lifting and/or easing some restrictions. We will see how the recovery curve will be in a few more weeks or months.