Hong Kong’s Status as an Airport Tanks as Passenger Traffic Drops to 2 Percent of Pre-epidemic Levels

Many countries have eased their travel restrictions now that the global epidemic has slowed down. But this is not the case in Hong Kong under the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) zero-COVID policy. A recent report released by Natixis, the French investment bank, said Hong Kong’s strict entry restrictions, continued outflow of residents, and other negative factors, have reduced passenger traffic to only 2 percent of what it was prior to the start of the epidemic. Hong Kong now seen as one of the worst sites in Asia by the aviation industry. Unless the restrictions are relaxed, the report suggests Hong Kong is at risk of jeopardizing its ability to compete in the air carrier sector.On par with Dubai, London, and Amsterdam, Hong Kong was one of the leading international cargo airports and the fourth busiest international passenger airport in the world. Approximately 120 airlines operated routes going to and from Hong Kong and serving over 200 destinations worldwide. In 2019, 71.5 million people traveled between Hong Kong and over 200 cities abroad, as well as mainland China. Passenger Traffic Dive one of the Worst in Asia According to the Natixis report, the severity of Hong Kong’s decrease in air travel was not unique at the start of the pandemic in 2020, as airports around the world locked down and quarantined flight crews. However, as other airports began to relax their COVID restrictions recently, Hong Kong did the opposite to combat its continuing sporadic outbreaks. Hong Kong’s departure from what other airports were doing made it stand out as one of the worst performers in Asia. Its passenger traffic volume fell to only 2 percent of what it was in 2019. Although Hong Kong’s air traffic increased slightly in May, it has not yet returned to normal levels. The co-author of the Natixis report was Alicia Garcia Herrero, the company’s chief economist for the Asia Pacific region. She said air freight plays a major role in Hong Kong’s external trade, accounting for 42 percent of total trade by value across all transport routes. Before the tightening of crew quarantine regulations, Hong Kong’s trade activity with mainland China was growing at the same rate as other Asian countries. After the restrictions were imposed earlier this year, Hong Kong’s trade activity with China plummeted 16 percent year-on-year in March. During the same period, China’s trade activity with Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan rose 12 percent year on year. The report suggested that its border control policies may be a decisive factor slowing Hong Kong’s recovery. Citing comparative data from other airlines, Herrera noted that Cathay Pacific’s 2021 air traffic in Hong Kong was equivalent to 8 percent of the pre-epidemic level but dropped to 2 percent in April of 2022. Singapore Airlines increased its traffic from 33 percent to 63 percent of the pre-epidemic level during the same period. As for air cargo, the pace of recovery was similar last year, at around 60 percent of the pre-epidemic level. But in April of this year, Hong Kong’s cargo volume dropped sharply to 29 percent of the pre-epidemic level, while Singapore’s gradually rose to 72 percent. Herrera also noted that in addition to the outflow of residents, the seriousness of the problem lies in Hong Kong’s role in the global arena and its connection to the world. If Hong Kong keeps lagging behind other airports, the short-term pressure may become permanent, causing it to lose its competitiveness in the aviation sector. IATA: Hong Kong Disappears from the Aviation Map The CCP’s dynamic zero-COVID policy in Hong Kong imposes a prolonged hotel quarantine on travelers, even if they test negative for the virus. Cathay Pacific Airways said its crew stayed in quarantine hotels for more than 62,000 nights in 2021 and were tested more than 230,000 times, but only 16 of the test results were positive. In January, Hong Kong banned flight arrivals from nine countries, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK, and the United States. One week later, the Hong Kong government banned flights from an additional 150 countries and regions. During that month, Cathay Pacific carried an average of fewer than 800 passengers per day, equivalent to the full capacity of its two Boeing 777 long-haul aircraft. Although Hong Kong has since reduced the quarantine period for overseas arrivals from three weeks to one, the hassle and cost involved is still a deterrent for many. Particularly since most other countries have abandoned their quarantine policies. Singapore doesn’t even require nucleic acid testing or isolation of arriving passengers and crew. On April 1, Hong Kong removed flight restrictions it placed earlier on nine countries, but this was insufficient to restore trade activity to pre-epidemic levels. During that month, the airport handled 126,000 travelers, double the number in 2021, but less than 2 percent of the 6.5 million travelers it handled in April 2019. Wi

Hong Kong’s Status as an Airport Tanks as Passenger Traffic Drops to 2 Percent of Pre-epidemic Levels

Many countries have eased their travel restrictions now that the global epidemic has slowed down. But this is not the case in Hong Kong under the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) zero-COVID policy. A recent report released by Natixis, the French investment bank, said Hong Kong’s strict entry restrictions, continued outflow of residents, and other negative factors, have reduced passenger traffic to only 2 percent of what it was prior to the start of the epidemic. Hong Kong now seen as one of the worst sites in Asia by the aviation industry. Unless the restrictions are relaxed, the report suggests Hong Kong is at risk of jeopardizing its ability to compete in the air carrier sector.

On par with Dubai, London, and Amsterdam, Hong Kong was one of the leading international cargo airports and the fourth busiest international passenger airport in the world. Approximately 120 airlines operated routes going to and from Hong Kong and serving over 200 destinations worldwide. In 2019, 71.5 million people traveled between Hong Kong and over 200 cities abroad, as well as mainland China.

Passenger Traffic Dive one of the Worst in Asia

According to the Natixis report, the severity of Hong Kong’s decrease in air travel was not unique at the start of the pandemic in 2020, as airports around the world locked down and quarantined flight crews. However, as other airports began to relax their COVID restrictions recently, Hong Kong did the opposite to combat its continuing sporadic outbreaks.

Hong Kong’s departure from what other airports were doing made it stand out as one of the worst performers in Asia. Its passenger traffic volume fell to only 2 percent of what it was in 2019. Although Hong Kong’s air traffic increased slightly in May, it has not yet returned to normal levels.

The co-author of the Natixis report was Alicia Garcia Herrero, the company’s chief economist for the Asia Pacific region. She said air freight plays a major role in Hong Kong’s external trade, accounting for 42 percent of total trade by value across all transport routes. Before the tightening of crew quarantine regulations, Hong Kong’s trade activity with mainland China was growing at the same rate as other Asian countries. After the restrictions were imposed earlier this year, Hong Kong’s trade activity with China plummeted 16 percent year-on-year in March. During the same period, China’s trade activity with Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan rose 12 percent year on year. The report suggested that its border control policies may be a decisive factor slowing Hong Kong’s recovery.

Citing comparative data from other airlines, Herrera noted that Cathay Pacific’s 2021 air traffic in Hong Kong was equivalent to 8 percent of the pre-epidemic level but dropped to 2 percent in April of 2022. Singapore Airlines increased its traffic from 33 percent to 63 percent of the pre-epidemic level during the same period. As for air cargo, the pace of recovery was similar last year, at around 60 percent of the pre-epidemic level. But in April of this year, Hong Kong’s cargo volume dropped sharply to 29 percent of the pre-epidemic level, while Singapore’s gradually rose to 72 percent.

Herrera also noted that in addition to the outflow of residents, the seriousness of the problem lies in Hong Kong’s role in the global arena and its connection to the world. If Hong Kong keeps lagging behind other airports, the short-term pressure may become permanent, causing it to lose its competitiveness in the aviation sector.

IATA: Hong Kong Disappears from the Aviation Map

The CCP’s dynamic zero-COVID policy in Hong Kong imposes a prolonged hotel quarantine on travelers, even if they test negative for the virus. Cathay Pacific Airways said its crew stayed in quarantine hotels for more than 62,000 nights in 2021 and were tested more than 230,000 times, but only 16 of the test results were positive.

In January, Hong Kong banned flight arrivals from nine countries, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK, and the United States. One week later, the Hong Kong government banned flights from an additional 150 countries and regions. During that month, Cathay Pacific carried an average of fewer than 800 passengers per day, equivalent to the full capacity of its two Boeing 777 long-haul aircraft.

Although Hong Kong has since reduced the quarantine period for overseas arrivals from three weeks to one, the hassle and cost involved is still a deterrent for many. Particularly since most other countries have abandoned their quarantine policies. Singapore doesn’t even require nucleic acid testing or isolation of arriving passengers and crew.

On April 1, Hong Kong removed flight restrictions it placed earlier on nine countries, but this was insufficient to restore trade activity to pre-epidemic levels. During that month, the airport handled 126,000 travelers, double the number in 2021, but less than 2 percent of the 6.5 million travelers it handled in April 2019.

Willie Walsh, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in April, that Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub has fallen due to its inbound flight restrictions and strict passenger segregation. He said, “Hong Kong has virtually disappeared from the aviation map. I think it’s very difficult for Hong Kong to recover.”

Jenny Li

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Jenny Li has contributed to The Epoch Times since 2010. She has reported on Chinese politics, economics, human rights issues, and U.S.-China relations. She has extensively interviewed Chinese scholars, economists, lawyers, and rights activists in China and overseas.