Even as the Hong Kong government has moved to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions, Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) anticipates a slow, years-long effort to rebuild the hub’s pre-pandemic network.
Speaking at Routes World 2022, HKG's executive director of airport operations Vivian Cheung Kar-fay said the airport does not expect to see pre-pandemic levels of traffic return until 2025. Though the mandatory three-day quarantine for all arriving passengers was ended on Sept. 26, Hong Kong still has extensive testing and vaccination requirements, with those testing positive during their stay sent to designated quarantine hotels.
“I don't think anybody traveling around the world wants to do testing anymore because there is a risk you might be sent to a quarantine center,” she said. Also, she noted, arriving passengers are still prohibited from entering bars, restaurants, fitness centers and a host of other indoor venues for three days, even if they test negative—an impediment to rebuilding demand for travel to Hong Kong.
Beyond the restrictions, another issue for HKG is home airline Cathay Pacific’s difficulties hiring staff. “We see the manpower shortage everywhere,” Cheung Kar-fay said, adding that Cathay is finding it “challenging recruiting pilots. So right now, that's the second challenge. How fast can they recoup those crew members?”
HKG’s traffic now stands at 10%-15% of 2019 levels. By the end of 2022, the airport expects to be handling about 30% of pre-pandemic traffic levels. By the end of 2023, HKG anticipates handling about 60% of 2019 traffic levels. “By 2025, the flow will come back,” Cheung Kar-fay said. “We’ll probably catch up by then.”
Cathay has accelerated its network rebuild since the elimination of the quarantine requirement. The airline has set a target of doubling the 29 destinations it operated in January by the end of this year. It is now operating to 51 destinations, so appears likely to achieve the goal.