Passenger numbers surge for SIA in March from a year ago as travel restrictions ease

SINGAPORE – Singapore Airlines (SIA) enjoyed an almost ninefold annual increase in passenger numbers last month as air travel started taking off following the lifting of travel restrictions.

SIA and its low-cost subsidiary Scoot together carried 893,000 passengers in March, up from 544,600 in February and 100,100 in March 2021.

Passenger load factor, which measures seat occupancy, rose to 54.5 per cent, a jump of 41.7 percentage points from a year earlier.

The average passenger load factor during the pre-pandemic era was upwards of 78 per cent.

The month of March thus represents the highest load factor since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

On the cargo side, load factors remained a healthy 72.5 per cent in March 2022, though 19.8 per cent down from a year ago. But actual cargo loads carried rose 16.6 per cent on the back of an additional capacity of 48.3 per cent – hence the fall in load factor.

Cargo loads to and from China and Hong Kong were constrained by pandemic controls there.

With flights resuming for more destinations in Australia, South-east Asia and South Africa, as well as to Gatwick (via Bangkok) and Newark, the group passenger network covered 93 destinations by the end of last month.

With the major reopening of borders, the group’s operating numbers for this month are expected to be significantly higher than even March.

But it will likely take some time before the operating numbers match the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 when SIA Group carried some 3.5 million passengers.

Nevertheless, the group has restored almost 60 per cent of its capacity and flies to up to 80 per cent of its pre-pandemic destinations or routes.

Two months ago, the group unveiled a profit of $85 million for the third quarter ending Dec 31, 2021, turning around from a loss of $142 million a year earlier.

For the nine months to end-December, SIA still posted a loss of $752 million, though this was a huge improvement from the $3.6 billion loss during the comparable nine months at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Most analysts expect the January-March quarter to be profitable for SIA, but not enough to lift full-year results into the black.

But given the solid forward bookings, the outlook remains bright, and the company’s balance sheet remains stable.