S’pore-HK ATB can be ‘viable model’ for restarting aviation worldwide if it's set up: Ong Ye Kung

He stressed the need to revive aviation for the sake of Singapore's survival.

Julia Yeo | May 07, 2021, 07:06 PM

The recent growth in Covid-19 cases in the local community and a huge wave of infections in South Asia has made it a "difficult time" to talk about the revival of aviation, said Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung on Thursday, May 6.

Ong was speaking to around 2,000 participants at the 50th edition of the St. Gallen Symposium, held physically in Singapore, a three-day event (May 5- 7) supported by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Economic Development Board (EDB).

Need to revive aviation for the sake of Singapore's survival

Calling Singapore's aviation and seaport industry the "two lungs" of Singapore's society and economy, Ong explained that both industries were badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the halting of air travel and risk of human interaction due to crew changes at ports.

"Our airport is decimated. Today, we are running at three per cent of our passenger volume pre-Covid; the number of flights is about a quarter pre-Covid," Ong said.

With Singapore on high alert due to the recent bout of cases and a new hospital cluster, the transport minister said that it was a "tough time" to talk about the reopening of borders, but that it was still something important to consider in the medium to long term, for the sake of Singapore's survival.

Sharing some "stark" feedback given by international investors during an international chamber dialogue, some foreign investors had expressed unhappiness over being unable to reunite with their families during festive periods, due to lengthy quarantine periods of 14 to 21 days set by the Singapore government.

"It's not just about tourism and taking a holiday, it's about Singapore being connected with the world and people setting up investments here, bringing in solutions here," he stressed.

Four ways to mitigate risks of quarantine-free air travel

The transport minister pointed out that the challenge lies in bringing back quarantine-free air travel.

With Singaporeans travelling for an average of three to five days per trip, a quarantine period of 14 to 21 days has barred many from travelling.

Ong suggested four ways to overcome the need for a lengthy quarantine period, and to mitigate the risks of implementing quarantine-free travel -- Covid-19 testing, bubble-wrapped travel itineraries, vaccinations, and restarting aviation with safe countries.

While the first three ways have been introduced here, the minister said that the fourth was the most difficult, yet important to do.

"If we don't keep ourselves safe, there is no chance of opening up," he said.

Air travel bubble between S'pore and Hong Kong could be a viable model for rest of the world

Raising the example of Singapore' upcoming air travel bubble (ATB) with Hong Kong, Ong shared that the arrangement could prove to be a "very viable model" for the rest of the world to look at, if it is successfully established.

"We really hope that we can do this mutual opening with Hong Kong; between two international cities, two financial services centres, two aviation hubs," Ong said.

"If we can establish this air connectivity between us, I think it is a major step forward."

Only location with participants

This year's St Gallen Symposium has adopted a hybrid format, with live panels and discussions streamed from St Gallen in Switzerland, Singapore, and the United States.

Singapore is the only location with participants attending the conference.

Hosted by UBS, this is the first time Singapore is holding an event concurrently with the actual symposium in Switzerland.

Top image via Ong Ye Kung/Facebook, Unsplash