We expect cargo demand to and from Singapore will reflect a similar performance and continue to be highly volatile in the coming months. Cognizant of the challenging environment that the aviation sector is in, Changi together with the Singapore government will continue to review additional support and reliefs for our air cargo community, says Lim Ching Kiat, Managing Director- Air Hub Development at Changi Airport Group. In an exclusive interview with Ritika Arora Bhola, the expert informs about the strategies the airport has adopted to sail through this difficult hour, post-crisis expansion projects, and more.
What kind of impact the lockdown had on the Singapore Changi Airport? Kindly give us a sense of the cargo categories been moved to and through the airport since COVID-19 has hit the industry.
During this period, we have facilitated several flights for humanitarian aid, as well as flights carrying essential and time-sensitive medical and food supplies by both scheduled and non-scheduled freighter operators including British Airways, Singapore Airlines, SpiceXpress, SF Airlines and Swiss International Airlines. Shipments containing critical medical supplies such as PPEs, test kits and masks were among the cargo uplifted from the region to and through Singapore Changi Airport.
Tell us about the cargo handled to and from India.
According to Seabury Trade Database, in the first four months of the year, the main commodities exported to India from Singapore were high-technology products and machinery parts, while imports were mainly perishables and pharmaceuticals.
Throw light on the efficient plans and strategies the airport has adopted to ensure efficient cargo and supply chain operations amid the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Through close collaboration with governments in the region, Singapore government, along with Changi Airport Group and our partners, facilitated the continued supply of essential food supplies into Singapore through additional ad-hoc services. For instance, the governments of New Zealand and Singapore launched a new trade initiative to ensure supply chain connectivity and the removal of blockages to trade in a list of essential products that includes medicines, medical and surgical equipment. Shortly after the trade declaration, the first chartered flight NZ6172 from Auckland to Singapore arrived at Changi Airport, carrying over 20,000 kilograms of chilled meat.
In parallel, we worked with our partners to ensure uninterrupted air cargo operations at the airport. Our cargo handling agents- dnata and SATS have been working tirelessly round-the-clock on flexible shifts to manage the extra cargo flights and maintain shorter lead times for certain charter flights. For instance, in coping with the increased workload, dnata was quick to redeploy staff from other departments like customer and ramp services to support air cargo, reinforcing the operational capacity and efficiency. All these we enabled while maintaining the well-being and health of the air cargo community. Additionally, since the start of the outbreak, Changi has implemented a series of measures to safeguard the community, such as more frequent cleaning of high contact areas, enhanced SOPs to facilitate contactless security access checks and additional safe distancing measures.
Share with us the challenges the airport faced during this crisis and the strategies adopted to sail through this difficult hour.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a worldwide lockdown and travel restrictions, which in turn caused massive passenger flight suspensions and slump in global belly-hold cargo capacity. Pre-COVID, belly-hold cargo capacity represented more than 50 per cent of overall global air cargo capacity. Consequently, global air cargo capacity has been severely constrained, disrupting international supply chains.
Aligned with the strong calls by IATA and various industry bodies to keep air cargo flying, Changi’s ongoing strategic triage of priorities are to ensure timely distribution of cargo, especially vital commodities such as medical and food supplies, and minimise supply chain disruptions by keeping air cargo lanes open, through close collaboration with our air cargo community and government authorities.
Changi is working closely with airline partners to secure critical connectivity and capacity during this challenging period; increasing freighter frequencies and introducing more cargo-only passenger flights. We have also established strong cooperation with our authorities to introduce clear guidelines on cargo conveyance on passenger aircraft, as well as facilitate flight crew turnaround and layover.
Elaborate on the frequency of cargo flights scheduled from the airport and the growth chart of (domestic/international) traffic in the last few months.
In June, our weekly cargo flights, including cargo-only passenger flights have more than doubled compared to pre-COVID (Dec 2019). Freighters used to carry about 25 per cent of Changi’s air cargo volume. Today, freighters and cargo-only passenger flights make up close to 90 per cent of cargo traffic at Changi.
Between January and June this year, more than 40 carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Scoot, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and AirAsia X have since launched cargo-only passenger flights to Singapore, transporting cargo to about 65 cargo city links.
Some of the ad-hoc freighter services were operated by non-scheduled freighter operators such as Ethiopian Airlines Cargo, SF Airlines, and SpiceXpress. In the month of April, Changi has also welcomed two new scheduled freighter operators to our family of freighter operators– Kalitta Air and Sichuan Airlines Cargo.
Post-lockdown, how long would you estimate it would take for our industry to get back the business levels of pre-COVID era? What will be the growth drivers?
In the near-term, air cargo capacity constraints ensue due to uncertainties on the recovery of the air travel sector. According to WTO, world merchandise trade is set to weaken by up to one-third in 2020 in the worst-case scenarios, weighed down by the pandemic. This will lead to further volatility and uncertainty in air cargo demand. We expect that cargo demand to and from Singapore will reflect a similar performance and continue to be highly volatile in the coming months. Cognizant of the challenging environment that the aviation sector is in, Changi together with Singapore government will continue to review additional support and reliefs for our air cargo community– cargo airlines, cargo agents and ground handlers.
Any expansion plans for the future?
In collaboration with our air cargo community, we have been pursuing a few strategic programmes to secure long-term competitiveness and resiliency for the Singapore air cargo hub. Our priorities for building capabilities include IATA CEIV standards for specialised cargo segments as a community.
Besides, community digital transformation continues to be high on our agenda. A major upcoming project at Changi Airport is the Changi East development project. It includes the following:
- Changi Airport’s fifth terminal, Terminal 5 (T5).
- A three-runway system.
- The construction of tunnels and other underground systems.
- Landside and aviation support facilities.
- The Changi East Industrial Zone.