SINGAPORE - Passenger numbers at Changi Airport have been hit by Thailand's continued political instability and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which has kept some Chinese travellers away from South-east Asia.
A reduction in long-haul capacity, especially to the United States, has not helped either.
There were 4.49 million passengers at the airport last month - a 2.5 per cent drop on March last year. It is the first year-on-year dip in monthly traffic since July 2009, checks by The Straits Times showed.
This does not take into account the 0.2 per cent fall in February, which was mainly because Chinese New Year - a popular time for short breaks - fell in January this year and February last year.
Changi Airport Group, which released the statistics yesterday, also said passenger traffic to and from Thailand - a key market - fell for the fifth consecutive month. The year-on-year drop last month was 29 per cent.
Industry analysts said Chinese travellers, a major market for Changi, have been staying away from the region since the disappearance of MH370. They made up about two thirds of the passengers on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.
For the January-March quarter, total passenger numbers grew by 1.1 per cent compared with the same three months last year, to hit 13.2 million.
Flight numbers have not fallen in tandem. There were 29,100 take-offs and landings last month, 2.5 per cent more than a year ago.
In the first quarter of the year, total flight movements grew by 4.5 per cent to 86,300.
Despite last month's passenger traffic dip, analysts do not expect drastic falls in the coming months, though overall growth will be moderate.
Mr Brendan Sobie, a Singapore-based analyst for aviation think-tank, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said: "There are still growth opportunities, but Changi needs to work hard to unlock those. If Changi does not succeed at attracting new segments or growth areas, we will likely see only low single digit growth over the near to medium term."
Last year, the airport attracted a record 53.7 million passengers - 5 per cent more than in 2012.
Rivals like Hong Kong airport grew by 6 per cent, but close neighbour Kuala Lumpur International Airport is way ahead, said Mr Sobie.
Amid strong growth by carriers like AirAsia, total traffic at the Kuala Lumpur airport grew 16 per cent between January and March over the same period last year to hit 12.3 million. Mr Sobie said: "KLIA is quickly closing the gap with its two main rivals, Singapore Changi and Hong Kong International."
This article was published on April 25 in The Straits Times.
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