Singapore storms back toward pre-COVID levels of air traffic

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Airlines in Asia are bringing back international capacity as the region gradually follows North America and Europe in reopening borders, led by the city-state of Singapore, whose economy depends on open access.

By January, Singapore is poised to reach 84 percent of the weekly flights to Europe as it had in March last year, before the clampdown on travel. And there’ll be 1,519 flights from the financial hub to elsewhere in Asia, compared with only 194 in May 2020, data from aviation analytics firm Cirium show.

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Australia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are among others ditching COVID-Zero policies and announcing plans to allow fully-vaccinated visitors from certain places to enter without having to quarantine. That’s inevitably resulted in a significant shift in airline schedules in the coming months.

Singapore is leading the way here,” said Gary Bowerman, director of travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia.

“Countries in the region have to open up because almost two years without travel of all forms, economically it’s just not viable to stay closed.”

Compared with air travel in the US and Europe, international traffic volume is still thin in the Asia-Pacific region, given that mainland China and Hong Kong remain closed off as they stick rigidly to a strategy of keeping COVID-19 out.

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China’s seat capacity is at pre-pandemic levels, according to Bloomberg’s flight tracker, which uses data from aviation specialist OAG to monitor the pulse of the comeback. That’s thanks to its massive domestic market rather than international capacity, which languishes at less than 10 percent of where it was before the crisis.

Other countries are a way off 2019 levels because their reopening plans are in the early stages or have yet to kick in. Capacity for Asian carriers excluding those in China is 53 percent below pre-COVID, according to OAG.

Singapore opened so-called vaccinated travel lanes after its COVID-19 inoculation rate hit 80 percent in late August. From early September, visitors from Germany and Brunei were allowed to enter and skip quarantine.

The list of countries has increased to 10, including the US and UK, while South Korea will be added on Nov. 15. The government is pressing on with reopening despite its virus cases topping 3,000 a day, prompting an extension of restrictions.

Singapore Airlines Ltd. plans to operate four flights a week to Vancouver via Seattle starting Dec. 2 to accommodate North American demand. That will be the carrier’s first return to Canada since April 2009, when services were cut due to the global economic crisis.

Since the opening of more travel lanes, demand from Singapore has been strongest for flights within Asia -- with some fares surging.

From December to January, ahead of the Lunar New Year and Beijing Winter Olympics, airlines plan the biggest monthly jump in flights from the island nation to the region since Cirium started providing the data in 2000.

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