Hong Kong International Airport sees passenger numbers drop sharply, but cargo holds up

Airport Authority announces it will continue relief measures for aviation industry.

(PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) and the city’s Airport Authority announced this week that passenger traffic moving through the airport dropped sharply in May, but the cargo side of the business held up in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled international aviation.

The Airport Authority announced that a relief package it first implemented in March will continue for the aviation industry to the end of August. The package includes a full waiver of parking and airbridge fees for idle passenger aircraft; a reduction in passenger aircraft landing charges and fees related to ramp handling, maintenance and airside vehicles.

The package also includes rent reductions for terminal tenants covering lounges and offices; a fee waiver for terminal licensees including commercial counters and cross-border transport operators; and concessions on franchise fees for aviation support services such as into-plane fuelling. The authority also said it would implement a full waiver on fixed charges for in-flight catering services from June to August. In addition, the rental relief for retail and catering tenants will continue. Rental waivers for temporarily closed shops and restaurants will also be extended.

Hong Kong International Airport has suffered from the double whammy of protests in 2019 that shut the airport for two days and now the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: File)

Meanwhile, the authority also reported that traffic figures for HKIA for May 2020 saw a surge in freighter movements of 29 percent year-on-year although cargo throughput dropped 6.8 percent to 377,000 tonnes compared to the same month last year. Passenger volumes fell 99.4 percent and cargo volume fell 68.7 percent to 35,000 passengers and 11,355 flight movements, respectively.

Cargo exports experienced an 11 percent year-on-year increase in May, with North America showing the strongest growth. The overall decline in cargo throughput was mainly attributed to the decrease in trans-shipments and imports due to the reduced belly capacity of passenger flights. Traffic to and from key trading regions in Southeast Asia and India experienced the most significant drops.

Cargo movements through Hong Kong helped the airport maintain its ranking as the world’s busiest, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

HKIA still managed to eke out its top ranking as the “world’s busiest cargo airport” for the 10th consecutive year in 2019, according to Airports Council International. Cissy Chan, the authority’s executive director for commercial, said, “it’s a great accomplishment that HKIA has been the world’s leading air cargo hub for the past decade, which we attribute to the airport’s extensive connectivity, high operational standards and successful cooperation with business partners. The ranking also recognises the concerted effort of the air cargo community and its business partners, to whom I would like to express my sincerest gratitude.”

As for passenger traffic, there was hardly any, due to the continuation of entry restrictions for non-Hong Kong residents and the suspension of transfer/ transit services in May. That meant that visitors and transfer/ transit traffic decreased almost 100 percent while Hong Kong resident travel decreased 99 percent. The operation of the transit/transfer services at HKIA has been smooth since its gradual resumption from 1 June, the authority said.

Over the first five months of the year, HKIA handled 8.2 million passengers and 84,180 flight movements, representing year-on-year decreases of 73.8 percent and 52.6 percent, respectively, while cargo throughput recorded 1.7 million tonnes, a drop of 10.7 percent compared to the same period last year.

On a 12-month rolling basis, passenger volume and flight movements fell by 36 percent and 24 percent to 48.3 million and 326,275, respectively. Cargo throughput recorded 4.6 million tonnes, representing a decrease of 7.7 percent year-on-year.

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