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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Singapore Airlines On Slow But Steady Road To Recovery

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While monthly progress is happening at Singapore Airlines, the pace of change seems far too slow now that travel restrictions are largely gone.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that airlines would typically throw capacity at a market or cut prices at any potential opportunity that appeared on their horizon. Each month we look at the Singapore Airlines Group and many other airlines, and a new post-COVID pattern has emerged, prioritizing load factors ahead of capacity and a more cautious approach to growth.

The slow pace of real recovery continues

Scoot Boeing 787

Photo: Scoot

In December, Singapore Airlines Group, which includes Singapore Airlines and Scoot, again inched closer to pre-COVID levels. The group carried 2.689 million passengers in December at a passenger load factor (PLF) of 89.7%, more than four times as many passengers as it carried in December 2021. However, in December 2019, the group carried 3.543 million passengers at a PLF of 87.6%, meaning that passenger numbers last month have only recovered to 76% of pre-COVID levels.


On the capacity front (as measured by M seat-km), the group operated at 12,631.6 in December 2022 compared to 15,716.9 in the same month in 2019. In its monthly results released a few hours ago, Singapore Airlines Group said that “capacity was 6.9% higher in December 2022 compared to the prior month [November], reaching 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels during the month.” The announcement added that the group “carried 20.7 million passengers in 2022, up nine-fold from 2021.”

Far too many airlines, and airports, continue to mix and match their reports with comparisons from different years depending on the aspect being measured. What relevance is there in measuring a 351% increase in passengers compared to December 2021 or a nine-fold increase from 2021 to 2022?

With travel and border restrictions now essentially a thing of the past, surely it is time to simply make all comparisons back to 2019 and paint a clear picture of how close the airline is to full recovery from the pandemic. This is not a criticism aimed solely at Singapore Airlines, but how long can we measure things like mishandled bags, flight cancelations or poor on-time performance referenced to the dark days of COVID?

Why is capacity so restrained?

singapore airlines 777-300ER

Airfares are reaching levels that make flying too expensive for many, yet airlines are holding back capacity to keep their load factors at all-time highs. In Australia, the competition regulator took the unprecedented step of warning airlines, including Qantas, not to unreasonably hold back capacity as a tool to push airfares higher.

According to fleet data from ch-aviation.com, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Scoot are operating 177 aircraft of their combined fleet of 213. SIA has 25 listed as inactive, and Scoot has 11 in the same month that the SIA group posted a record load factor of 89.7%, the highest monthly PLF ever in the airline’s history. In SIA’s case, it has some serious capacity sitting on the ground, including 15 Boeing 777ERs, two Airbus A350s and two A380s, while Scoot has two 787-8s inactive.

With the resumption of travel in North East Asia, now also taking hold in China, load factors in that region for both SIA and Scoot are nearly identical to those in 2019. Overall, SIA recorded a PLF of 89.1% and Scoot of 91.6% in December 2022, compared to 87.5% and 88.7%, respectively, in December 2019.

At some point in 2023, airlines will break ranks, start putting more capacity out there, and push fares down to fill those seats. It seems incongruous to be at this point in society’s COVID recovery and still lagging so far behind the passenger numbers and capacity that existed pre-pandemic. If we continue at this pace, airlines such as SIA and many others will move glacially towards full recovery when perhaps a bolder step, like ripping off a band-aid, might be worth consideration.

What are your thoughts on the pace of aviation’s recovery? Please let us know in the comments.

  • Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-941 (2)

    Singapore Airlines

    IATA/ICAO Code:

    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier

    Singapore Changi Airport

    Year Founded:

    Star Alliance

    Goh Choon Phong


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