Visitors walk around Departure Hall in Changi Airport. (Shutterstock/Nawadoln)
Starting from Saturday, the second terminal of Singapore's Changi Airport which has recently won the world's best airport title for eight years in a row, is closed temporarily as affected by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Due to the sharp decline in flight movements because of the COVID-19 pandemic, terminal operations at Changi Airport will be consolidated, including the suspension of operations in Terminals 2 and 4, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) said in a press release on May 12.
In other words, only half of the terminals of the four-terminal airport -- Terminal 1 and 3 are still in operation.
Operations at Terminal 2 has been suspended for 18 months from May 1, followed by Saturday's closure of Terminal 4, which CAG said would enable saves on running costs such as utilities and cleaning. The airlines based there will be moved to other terminals.
Officially put into use in October 2017, Terminal 4 is the newest terminal at Changi Airport. Not long after its opening, Terminal 5 is put on the agenda. The construction of Terminal 5 is reported to be completed in the 2030s, so as to further consolidate the Lion City's role as a regional air-travel hub.
However, the airport has suffered a heavy blow from COVID-19, followed by global travel restrictions and border control measures, among which Singapore announced on March 22 to ban all short-term visitors from entering or transiting, and only allow the entry or return of work pass holders providing essential services, such as in healthcare and transport.
"COVID-19 has diminished our buzzing Changi Airport to size," said Singapore's Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan on May 8 in his Facebook post, adding that the airport now handles only about 100 arrival passengers and 700 departure passengers a day.
However, the cargo and humanitarian mission to repatriate or evacuate remain busy, Khaw said, "This is the value of our Changi Air Hub: we play our role both in good times and during crisis."
Statistics released by the CAG show that Changi Airport handled 25,200 passenger movements and 3,870 aircraft movements, airfreight throughput for the month stood at 96,500 tonnes in April this year.
Concurrently, Singapore Airlines reported on May 14 a full-year net loss of 212 million SGD (about 149 million U.S. dollars) in its 2019-2020 financial year which ends on March 31, its first annual net loss in its 48-year history.
The airline recorded a net loss of 732 million SGD (about 512 million U.S. dollars) in the fourth quarter of the financial year, dragging the whole year performance into the red. This was attributed to the plunge in air travel demand and shrinking of fuel prices and consumption.
In response, the Singapore Airlines have imposed management pay cuts, voluntary and compulsory no-pay leave schemes, and a shorter work month for ground staff.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a press release on April 28 that they are re-deploying manpower from industries affected by COVID-19 to enable them to take on new roles in the hospitals.
"For example, Singapore Airlines cabin crew are filling the role of care ambassadors. They provide administrative support and attend to patients, under the supervision of nursing staff," MOH said.
Despite the sluggish market, Changi Airport was bestowed on May 11 the World's Best Airport for the eighth consecutive time at the 2020 World Airport Awards. The awards are based on a survey questionnaires completed by airport customers, and presented by Skytrax, a Britain-based consultancy.
Skytrax CEO Edward Plaisted said, "Singapore Changi Airport remains a very popular choice with customers and delights at nearly all points in the airport journey, and it is this attention to detail that proves so popular."
For Mrs. Zhong, a local Singaporean who went on a recent visit around the airport area, the scene on the other side of the road with the tarmac parking with a lot of airplanes is unprecedented and shocking.
"It's like the end of the world," she said.
When will the airport come back to life again?
As for the travel restrictions between Singapore and other countries, Singapore's National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Friday that the easing of travel restrictions must be done in a safe and controlled manner, and it is too early to say with which countries these curbs will be relaxed first.
However, the airport management staff think they should always be prepared.
Tan Lye Teck, CAG's Executive Vice President of Airport Management noted that, "Even as our airport capacity is being optimized for the current situation, we will have the flexibility and we stand ready to ramp up operations quickly once the recovery takes place."
Khaw admitted in his Facebook post on Saturday that nobody knows how long the pandemic will last and when the border restrictions will be lifted. "But we need to prepare for recovery," he said.
"As a major aviation hub, we are working closely with the international aviation community to start taking proactive steps to prepare for the rebound. A key strategy is to ensure safe travel, both for crew and passengers, based on science and sound public health principles," the transport minister said.