Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pandemic playing havoc with airport reopening plans in ASEAN countries



Pandemic playing havoc with airport reopening plans in ASEAN countries

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Air hubs pushed back reopening plans as governments struggled to contain the virus just as things were getting better. THE STRAITS TIMES

Pandemic playing havoc with airport reopening plans in ASEAN countries

Things were looking up for the aviation sector in ASEAN in the middle of this year.

But all hope for air travel was dashed as quickly as it was raised as Covid-19 returned with a vengeance, with a new wave involving the more infectious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus. The surge in infections came amid a shortage of vaccines.

Air hubs pushed back reopening plans as governments struggled to contain the virus just as things were getting better.

Tourist arrivals tumbled to record lows everywhere and only cargo volumes helped lift some air hubs.

Reopening, many realised, was not just about reviving flights, but also accepting that there is a trade-off – restoring connectivity comes with the prospect of rising case numbers, although vaccination mitigates the risk of serious infections.

Malaysia’s northwestern island Langkawi welcomed its first planeload of fully vaccinated travellers on September 16, as 159 people from the capital Kuala Lumpur landed to begin their first vacation after months of lockdown in the country.

Langkawi is now aiming for 400,000 visitors by the end of year, hoping they will spend some 165 million ringgit ($39 million).

Foreign tourists are not allowed yet, even though Langkawi International Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport were jointly named the world’s number-one airports for the second quarter of the year by the Airports Council International (ACI).

Meanwhile, Thailand reopened its two most popular resort islands, Phuket and Koh Samui, in early July, allowing fully vaccinated international tourists to visit without serving mandatory quarantine.

Similar larger plans for the whole country, however, have been delayed by a struggle with the Delta variant, which coursed through the population early this year amid a sluggish vaccination programme.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has vowed to reopen the country by next month despite the fact that only about a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated at present.

The state-owned Airports of Thailand has been badly hit by the pandemic, with revenue plunging by 87.7 per cent in the nine months to June 30.

Before the pandemic hit, the main Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok served 53.5 million international passengers in 2019. It handled a mere 527,411 in the first seven months of the year.

Aviation analyst Brendan Sobie said the revival of international air hubs “is a question of which countries are reopening faster, not which airports are reopening faster”.

“If you look at Bangkok particularly, it’s a lot of inbound traffic, so it completely hinges on the reopening of borders,” he told the Straits Times.

“So if Thailand opens up the borders faster and tourists come to Thailand sooner – even though they have a lower vaccination rate than Singapore – obviously, the traffic will recover faster in Bangkok than in Singapore.”

The fortunes of an air hub are also tied to its geographic location, said Sobie.

“Right now, Singapore is not really able to connect any two markets that are open,” he said. “Neither is Bangkok or Hong Kong, because they all rely on countries that haven’t reopened yet.”

How fast the main airline at an air hub would be able to restore its services and capacities would determine the air hub’s recovery if all regional borders reopened at the same time, Sobie pointed out.

Changi Airport’s recovery would be tied to the fortunes of Singapore Airlines, for example.

But Sobie cautioned that the choice of airports do not really figure high in travellers’ priorities. They are more concerned about the attractiveness of a destination.

“It becomes more of an issue of competition between airlines, and also an issue of competition between destinations,” he said.

THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Cambodia resumes issuance of tourist visas

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has announced the resumption of its tourist visa and visa exemption programme after a long hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a letter dated October 20 and addressed to foreign embassies and consulates, foreign minister Prak Sokhonn

  • S’ville set to turn into ‘second Shenzhen’

    The Ministry of Economy and Finance has awarded a master plan consultancy contract to top Chinese institute for the development and transformation of Preah Sihanouk province into a “Model Multi-Purpose Special Economic Zone”, Southeast Asia’s next logistics and resort hub and innovation centre. The