Southeast Asia aviation players hope for less turbulent skies in 2022

Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 26 2022 09:51 PM

MANILA - Leaders from various aviation-related companies are hoping the industry will see clearer skies ahead despite the emergence of the omicron variant which has caused several countries to limit plane arrivals.

At the online media roundtable event for the upcoming Singapore Airshow 2022, aviation experts admit the industry has been heavily affected by the pandemic. Southeast Asia, in particular, remains lagging in terms of its response to the pandemic, which in turn has affected several airlines, airports and plane manufacturers, they said.

Anand Stanley, President of Airbus in the Asia Pacific region, said one of the biggest challenges for the industry is the border controls of various countries and he asserted, this must stop. 

"We've seen the recovery come in very very strong in North America and Europe when the restrictions were eased and opened up. Asia still has to follow that track. We still have semblances of a quarantine-based regime. Border closures- this has to be lifted so that the freedom of movement returns," Stanley said.

Kate Seaton, Board Member of the Women in Aviation International, agrees. 

"Border closures, I think, created a real frustration for the industry at the time we really want to keep airlines flying, planes flying. I think we just felt helpless in place of those border closures. I think the industry went into survival mode to some extent, that was my view. Nearly 90% of airlines fleet grounded," she said.

However, despite the travel restrictions in many countries, the panelists at the media roundtable are optimistic that 2022 will be a better year for the industry in Southeast Asia. 

Lim Ching Kiat, Managing Director of the Air Hub Development of Changi Airport Group said Singapore is seeing more travelers coming in, including the rise of business travel. 

He is hopeful that tourists will come flying in next. This he said is partly due to the high vaccination rate in Singapore. 

"Some amount of business travel is coming back because people want to establish new relationships. They can keep existing ones via... we do calls but I think nothing beats networking in person to get new partnerships. Leisure will also come because you can't zoom a beach through a computer. So I think leisure travel will also start to come back," he said.

Both Boeing and Airbus are also hopeful for the region amid the pandemic. 

"We are trying to hire a lot of people. We recently announced we are looking to hire about 6,000 people globally to get us ready for the ramp up to come. And the Asia Pacific region is also part of the plan," Stanley said.

Alex Feldman, President of Boeing in Southeast Asia, said the industry has been through similar challenges.

"We've seen crises before. We've had naysayers saying travel will not come back after 911, after SARS. It did and grew substantially. Boeing believes this region of the world is going to be the growth center as obviously, Airbus does too. And we are also hiring and ramping up in Southeast Asia and across the region as we prepare for what we hope would be substantial growth in the next 20 years," Feldman said.

The aviation experts hope governments across the region can help in simplifying travel protocols, asserting that traveling via air is safe even amid the pandemic. 

There will be some adjustments to the new way of traveling, however, they are hopeful governments can make it easier for everyone as traveling now has sometimes become confusing because of various regulations.

"The industry is resilient. We believe that if governments can get together and provide a simplified, easy and coordinated way to access borders and communicate that clearly to travelers, you will see travel increase," Feldman said 

"After September 11, people got used to a new process of doing things in the aviation system and partners working between the airlines and airports and manufacturers will get there to a new normal. It takes some adjustments," Ching Kiat of Changi added.