Changi airport, world's best, warns of 'daunting' future in raging pandemic

Healthcare officers monitor arriving passengers at a temperature screening point at Terminal 3 of Singapore Changi Airport. Bloomberg
Changi Airport Group said the impact from the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t abating as officials behind the world’s best airport warned of a “daunting” period ahead.

Passenger traffic for Changi for the fiscal year ended March declined for the first time in more than a decade, as a slump in the last two months of the period wiped out earlier gains, serving as a harbinger of a deeper slump. To brace for “a prolonged crisis”, Changi suspended operations in two terminals to save on operating costs as flights dropped to the lowest levels in its history.

“The battle with Covid-19 has only just begun,” the company said in its annual report. “The future does appear daunting with the situation showing no signs of abatement.”

According to the International Air Transport Association, 25 million jobs are at risk in airlines and associated businesses such as travel and tourism. A third of the world’s 26,000 passenger jets remain grounded, parked in deserts or lined up in rows along the tarmac, aviation data provider Cirium says.

Amid all the gloom in May, Changi was voted the world’s best airport for an eighth consecutive year, according to a ranking by Skytrax. Changi Airport in 2019 opened Jewel, a shopping and entertainment complex with 1.5 million square feet of stores and attractions including a rainforest, hedge maze, and the world’s highest indoor waterfall.

But the annual report revealed a grim picture of a world-class hub reduced to a fraction of its normal business from the early days of the pandemic.

To conserve cash, the company has implemented salary cuts of as much as 30% for management and staff, and recommended no dividend payout for the year. It has also suspended the construction of a fifth terminal for at least two years.

Profit plunged 36% to S$435 million ($319 million) due to an impairment charge by the Tom Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, which it holds a 51% stake, and worsened by the collapse in international travel. The Jewel shopping and entertainment complex helped boost revenue 2.6% to S$3.1 billion in the period.

Travel recovery is “highly dependent on how countries around the world manage border controls, the relaxation of air travel requirements and the development of viable medical treatments for the virus,” it said.

Changi has facilitated cargo flights to enable global supply chain flow, especially of vital commodities like food and medical supplies. To assist in the battle to contain Covid-19 in Singapore dormitories housing foreign workers, some of the airport’s infrastructure for emergencies, such as casualty clearance stations, were converted into isolation facilities with infrastructure and amenities.


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