It could be “2025 or 2026” before Macau International Airport sees 2019, i.e. pre-pandemic, volumes of passengers, said Simon Chan Weng Hong, executive committee chairman for the facility’s operator, Macau International Airport Co Ltd (CAM), in comments to GGRAsia.
He cited factors including airlines still “normalising” operations following lifting of Covid-19 -related travel restrictions at the start of this year, and Macau inhabitants’ own demand for outbound travel still being in a recovery phase.
Mr Chan’s remarks were on the sidelines of a Wednesday event in the city.
One proposal to boost demand for services at Macau International Airport and for the air hub at the city’s mainland neighbour Zhuhai, in Guangdong province, is to run a through-service for luggage and passenger check-in for either airport, via Hengqin island, a piece of mainland territory next to Macau’s Cotai district. Mr Chan says that idea is still being considered by the mainland authorities.
Macau’s airport handled circa 9.61 million inbound and outbound passengers in 2019, according to its data. That year’s tally marked a record since the air hub started operating in 1995.
So far this year, “we are close to handling an aggregate of 4 million in passenger volume, and by this year-end, hopefully we are reaching… 4.3 million to 4.5 million,” Mr Chan stated to GGRAsia.
“We can probably achieve the level handled in 2019 by the year 2025, or 2026, at the earliest,” added Mr Chan. The nearly 3.56-million recorded in the first nine months of this year, equalled only circa 49 percent of the same-period 2019 volume. Nonetheless 2023 autumn Golden Week judged like-for-like with the 2019 holiday season, showed a 66 percent recovery in passenger throughput.
Macau inhabitants themselves, “need time to recover their wealth [feeling of prosperity],” before more would venture to travel abroad, the airport boss suggested.
The number of flights to neighbouring places in Asia aside from mainland China, was likely to expand, he added.
Mr Chan had earlier given a talk on travel within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area. The occasion was a briefing hosted by France Macau Chamber of Commerce. There, Mr Chan expressed confidence in Macau’s airport capturing its share of fresh air travel demand, given that the city’s location in the southwest corner of the Greater Bay Area, offered an addressable market of about 12 million people.
Certain legacy carriers in Asia that already had what Mr Chan termed a “stronghold” in Hong Kong – where that city’s airport is just a one-hour trip from Macau – tend to shy away from also offering flights via Macau, Mr Chan told GGRAsia.
“Some low-cost carriers or the emergent airlines that don’t want to compete directly with the large airlines are the very niche that Macau can explore,” he added.
Nontheless he acknowledged that some airlines had suspended operations via Macau during the pandemic, so it would “take some time for the sector to recover”.
Regarding the Henqin through-service proposal for passenger check-in, Mr Chan stated on the sidelines of his talk: “The idea is pretty much accommodating two passenger terminals within Hengqin. One is targeted at Chinese passengers that wish to head to some overseas destinations from the Macau airport. The other is for those in Macau that wish to use Zhuhai airport to fly to some [mainland China] cities that the Macau airport has no flight connection to.”
He added: “This is a proposal that involves discussion over immigration and customs issues [by mainland Chinese authorities], and it also hinges on Hengqin’s own policy…there are some technical issues to be resolved on that front, but I’d say the overall development direction is positive.”
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