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Imminent Vaccination Roll Out And Travel Bubbles Expected To Improve Air Traffic Numbers

SEPANG – Recent announcements by the Malaysian government on nationwide COVID-19 vaccination roll-out starting April 2020, and reciprocal green lane / travel corridor arrangement (RGL/TCA) between Malaysia and Indonesia are expected to have a positive impact on the recovery of national aviation industry in the coming months. Despite the drop in overall passenger traffic movements in Malaysia last month, international passenger traffic had increased by about 25% from the preceding month, even with border closures and strict quarantine measures. This underscores the latent demands for travel especially for business, employment and education purposes. KL International Airport (IATA Code: KUL) captured the bulk of the increase at 97% of the total international traffic recorded. During the same month, KUL had welcomed Starlux Airlines’ inaugural flight for the Kuala Lumpur-Taipei route thus increasing KUL's connectivity within the region. This twice-weekly route is an addition to Starlux’s Taipei-Penang route that started early last year.

Air traffic data for January 2021 has shown that border closures and re-imposition of domestic travel restrictions once again adversely affected air traffic movements that had been showing initial signs of gradual recovery after the easing of travel restrictions in the second half of 2020. Passenger traffic movements in January 2021 for Malaysia operations dropped by about 30% compared to the preceding month, whereas it had increased by more than 240% when comparing December against November 2020. 

Group chief executive officer (Group CEO) of Malaysia Airports, Dato’ Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh is also hopeful that airport front liners will be among those who would be in the first batch to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, “Since the start of the pandemic, we have been vigilant in ensuring the highest safety standards at the airport so that people can travel safely. The national vaccination programme will certainly help our efforts. With the programme in place, we also hope that more travel bubbles can be implemented similar to the one that will happen between Indonesia and Malaysia, perhaps with other countries within South East Asia (SEA). Pre-COVID-19, nearly 50% of our international traffic is from the SEA region.” 

Group traffic movements are still largely contributed by operations at Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (IATA Code: SAW). Despite the implementation of curfews and flight suspensions from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Denmark, SAW still recorded 1.3 million passenger movements i.e. about 60% of the group's total of 2 million in January 2021.

Meanwhile, cargo operations remain resilient with KUL welcoming its latest cargo airline partner from Lithuania, Get Jet Airlines last week. The private charter airline has chosen KUL to be its main base for its Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur route and will look to connect to more destinations from South East Asia to Central Asia.

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