The volume of airline passengers who passed through Hong Kong’s airport in February increased more than 20-fold from the previous year, but the monthly figure accounted for less than 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Figures released by the Airport Authority on Sunday showed a surge in traffic at the city’s airport last month, with site handling around 2.1 million travellers, around 24 times greater than a year before.
But a lawmaker for the city’s tourism sector said the volume of passenger traffic could have increased further if the government had better handled a ground worker recruiting “bottleneck” before airlines began ramping up their carrying capacities.
The rebound came after Hong Kong began gradually rolling back its stringent coronavirus curbs towards the end of last year, including the lifting of most entry restrictions for foreign arrivals in December.
“Due to the relaxation of travel restrictions, all passenger segments experienced significant growths, particularly Hong Kong residents,” the authority said, adding that traffic to and from Southeast Asia and Japan had recorded the most significant increases.
But the city had yet to reach levels prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, with the volume of air passengers in February of this year making up only 35.6 per cent of those recorded for the same month in 2019, when the figure reached 5.9 million.
During the first two months of 2023, the city handled 4.2 million passengers, representing an around 26-fold increase from the same period last year. The figures also showed the number of flight movements reached 32,520, up 60 per cent from the year before.
Quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and mainland China resumed at four border crossings on January 8, and at all other control points on February 6, with the city scrapping all pre-departure testing requirements last month.
According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the number of visitors to the city in February rose threefold to 1.462 million from January, exceeding 1 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
On a 12-month rolling basis, Sunday’s figures showed passenger volume increased six-fold to 9.7 million from the year before, while flight movements rose 3.9 per cent to 150,895. However, cargo throughput declined by 17.2 per cent over the same period to 4.1 million tonnes.
The authority attributed the increases in passenger volume and flight movements to the resumption of more airline routes in recent months.
However, lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung, who represents the city’s tourism sector, said local airlines had struggled to fill vacancies among ground crews since Hong Kong rolled back its anti-epidemic curbs.
Yiu said the lack of success by carriers was due to disadvantages such as staff dealing with long and expensive commutes to and from the city’s airport.
“I invited the government to consider if they could enable airport workers to benefit from an upgrade to the current travel subsidy scheme or whether bus companies could offer them free journeys,” he said.
On a cargo front, the total volume, as well as the number of flight movements, in February respectively increased 6.7 per cent and 95.7 per cent to 290,000 tonnes and 16,305 from the previous year.
The increase was largely due to February 2022 representing a low base for comparison, the authority said. It added that the Middle East, the mainland and North America experienced the most significant growth in terms of cargo volume.
Meanwhile, the authority in February logged a respective 46 per cent and 3 per cent increase in transshipments and exports from the year before.
Separately, the city’s airport resumed direct flights with Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. The route will operate three flights per day.
Since March 2020, the airport in Shanghai had suspended all international inbound and outbound flights as part of anti-epidemic curbs.