Singapore is prioritizing safely reopening its borders this year and nailing down Changi Airport’s position as an international hub when travel recovers from the pandemic, otherwise “we will be bereft,” Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Friday.
“Our mission this year is not so much to force this sharp recovery of the aviation sector, but to adapt to a new normal, to reopen safely and build up confidence, to test workable concepts and to strengthen the belief that Changi Airport will still be an international air hub post-Covid-19,” Ong said.
Singapore Airlines is vital too, he said, and travel bubbles will be key in rebuilding the aviation industry and economy as worldwide vaccination rollouts lower infection rates and encourage countries to make such arrangements.
“If we lose SIA or we lose Changi Airport, life in Singapore will never be quite the same,” Ong said.
The coronavirus crisis is particularly acute for Singapore’s aviation industry as international travel has been hit so hard and there’s no domestic market.
Changi handled 11.8 million passengers in 2020, down from about 60 million in the years before. Singapore Airlines, another great pride of the city-state, has suffered record losses, cut thousands of jobs and is racing through funds raised via a rights issue and other means.
Singapore has been trying to reopen its borders by establishing special travel arrangements with countries where the virus is essentially contained, like New Zealand and Vietnam.
But fresh outbreaks have caused delays with other places: plans to form lanes with Germany, Malaysia and South Korea were suspended last month, while one with Hong Kong was shelved in November.
Eager to prise open its borders even slightly, Singapore is introducing a program called [email protected] that will allow people to enter the island for business and official purposes without having to quarantine, provided they stay in a bubble-like facility near Changi Airport for the duration of their visit.
“In aviation, it is the battle of our lifetime,” Ong said. “The worst thing to do now is not even try. That is giving up the fight.”
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