Singapore aviation firms ramp up hiring to meet increase in flights

SINGAPORE – When Singapore Airlines (SIA) resumed hiring in February after a two-year freeze, the national carrier had aimed to recruit 2,000 cabin crew trainees by March next year.

It has hired 1,200 people to date, and now wants to bring in the remaining 800 trainees by December, as air travel continues to rebound from the depths of Covid-19.

With borders open, the airline is also considering restarting hiring from places outside Singapore and Malaysia, which it did pre-Covid-19 in China, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan.

Like SIA, other companies in the local aviation sector are pulling out the stops to replenish their ranks.

From ground handlers, to security staff, cleaners, cabin crew and air traffic controllers, almost all types of airport workers are now in strong demand, amid a tight labour market.

Manpower shortages have been a key hurdle for airlines in the Asia-Pacific.

In Australia, for instance, a lack of workers has left airlines and airports unable to keep up with demand since unrestricted travel resumed early this year.

In Singapore, Changi Airport’s handling capacity has largely stayed abreast of growing passenger traffic.

Singapore Institute of Technology Associate Professor Volodymyr Bilotkach, who heads its air transport management degree programme, noted that major Asian markets such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan remain restricted, which limits the speed and extent of the recovery in Asia.

Overall Asia passenger traffic is expected to hit only 70 per cent to 80 per cent by year end.

In Europe, it has already surpassed 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, outstripping what manpower levels can handle.

“If China were open for business now, we’d be having similar issues to what Europeans are experiencing,” Prof Volodymyr said.

The total number of Changi Airport workers increased from 25,000 to 29,000 people in the first half of the year.

Transport Minister S. Iswaran last week said another 3,500 to 4,000 people are needed, with passenger traffic expected to hit 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in October.

If achieved, this would bring the total number of airport workers to about 33,000 people – 95 per cent of what it was before.