24 August 2020
Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd has received confirmations from 42 foreign airlines to resume their operations by this year, subject to the full re-opening of the borders for Malaysia and the origin countries.
They include Royal Brunei Airlines, which has planned to recommence their flight to Kota Kinabalu International Airport immediately once the border restriction is lifted.
MAHB group chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh said although the recovery from Covid-19 was expected to be gradual, the airport operator was optimistic that the air travel demand would eventually return.
“Historical growth rates of Malaysia traffic between five per cent and six per cent had demonstrated the resilience of air transport to bounce back despite the crises,” Shukrie told the New Straits Times recently.
He said airlines would generally adapt to changes and hence the possibility of restructuring their fleet capacity by grounding wide-body and utilising more of narrow-fleets to match with the current demand of domestic or staycation travel.
The preliminary air passenger numbers in July locally indicated an encouraging uptick in passenger movements, a rebound dominated by the domestic passenger movements.
MAHB’s local airports network posted 1.2 million passengers year-on-year (YoY) in July or 73.2 per cent reduction, considering the uplift of interstate travel of just a month ago.
The recovery was consistent with the uplift of interstate travel ban from June 10 this year and the increase by threefold for July domestic passenger movements compared to June, indicating the growing demand for air travel.
Meanwhile, international sector recorded some slight improvements compared to the previous months but relatively weak as most of the countries’ borders are still closed or restricted.
In July also saw resumption of flights by Turkish Airlines, Scoot and Starlux Airlines to Malaysia.
Based on Airports Council International’s preliminary report, Southeast Asia’s (SEA) passenger movements up to May remained in the lead in terms of total passenger regional trend with domestic sector dominating the uptick.
The representative of the world’s airport authorities said airline capacity cut for SEA was the lowest at only 43 per cent compared with the other regions which were between 53 per cent and 74 per cent for 2020.
“MAHB is continuously engaging with the relevant government agencies to ensure that airport provides a safe and secure journey to regain air travel confidence.
“Operationally the maintenance of the airport complies to the highest standards such as the recent successful rehabilitation of the third runway which is a manifestation of our commitment that we will not compromise on safety,” he said.
Shukrie said MAHB would continue to invest in areas where passenger safety can be enhanced, despite aggressive cost containment measures.
From the passenger experience perspectives, MAHB’s latest safety measure at the airport include the installation of UV handrail sterilisers at escalators and walkalators, which are expected to eliminate 99.9 per cent unwanted micro-organisms from the handrails.
Other safety measures that were already in place at MAHB’s network of airports include facial recognition, contactless security screening, advanced thermal screeners, usage of UV sanitising lights at passenger heavy areas, automated hand sanitisers, contact tracing, enforcing the use of face masks and physical distancing markers at all checkpoints and boarding lounges.
MAHB expects a gradual passenger traffic recovery in Malaysia despite the IATA’s latest report in July had forecast a 55 per cent traffic demand contraction globally.
“Resumption of demand for air travel would depend on several factors. The increasing cases of Covid-19 and renewed lockdowns elsewhere would impede the traffic recovery forecasted,” he said.
Shukrie said the uncertainty of a vaccine or widespread immunisation availability and the volatility of the pandemic across certain countries or regions had also made forecasting more challenging.
“Daily domestic traffic in Malaysia has shown some improvements after the interstate travel ban was lifted in June. However, international travel still lags due to international border restrictions that are still in place and the 14-day quarantine requirements by many countries,” he said.
The airlines’ ability to cope with the consequences of lockdown due to containment measures and restart operations when traffic ramps up would also play a critical role in supporting traffic recovery, said Shukrie.
He said the airlines’ seat capacity would possibly be lower as they would need to resolve operational issues and match the new demand.
“Nevertheless, domestic sector would continue to steer the recovery as containment measures become more controllable. Moving forward, we anticipate a promising outlook in regaining the confidence of travellers with travel bubble talks that are currently held by our government and various countries,” he said.
MAHB expects the resumption of international travels and route planning adjustment by airlines to fuel the growth of domestic and short-haul trips demand as well as the possibility of more travel bubbles establishment.
Currently, Malaysia and Singapore have established the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) schemes effective from August 17.
Apart from that, he said the latest announcements made by countries such as the United Kingdom and Scotland putting Malaysia in their travel corridor list as a country exempted from quarantine upon return reflected the confidence that the foreign governments had of the pandemic management in Malaysia.
Taiwan also put Malaysia on the list for countries with shortened quarantine stay upon return.
“We are seeing a more rapid recovery from our overseas operations in Turkey where currently Istanbul Sabiha Gokchen International Airport is handling about 60,000 passengers daily.
“This represents 60 per cent of domestic passengers when compared to the same period in 2019, and 20 per cent of the international passengers,” he added.