Singapore Airlines braces for another record loss on virus

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SINGAPORE (July 27): Singapore Airlines Ltd, consistently voted one of the world's best airlines by Skytrax, is poised for another hefty quarterly loss after the coronavirus left it flying a tiny fraction of its usual number of passengers.

The airline warned this month that it expected a material operating loss for its fiscal first quarter. It already suffered a record net loss of S$732 million in the three months through March, when it was hit by fuel-hedging losses as well as a collapse in demand triggered by the outbreak. That left the carrier with its first annual loss in its 48-year history.

The net loss could widen to S$1.2 billion for the quarter through June and revenue may slump 87% because of a 96% drop in capacity, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysts James Teo and Chris Muckensturm. Fuel-hedging losses will again take a toll, and this time there are also S$124 million in liquidation costs for NokScoot Airlines Co. Singapore Airlines owned a 49% stake in the low-cost Thai carrier that collapsed in June.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to torment the global aviation industry, which is forecast to take at least another three years to recover from the plunge in traffic caused by tight border controls and a reluctance to travel.

Singapore Airlines is in a particularly tight spot as it is dependent on international flights. The carrier and its SilkAir and Scoot units flew 17,700 passengers in June, compared with 3.2 million a year earlier.

"Progress towards a global lifting of border controls and travel restrictions, which could facilitate or result in the easier movement of travellers between countries, is slower than earlier expected," Singapore Airlines said on July 15.

The airline, which raised about S$11 billion through loans and a rights issue in June, said at its annual general meeting today that passenger traffic could take two to four years to recover. The company will release a first-quarter business update after trading hours on Wednesday.

Singapore Airlines' shares slipped 0.3% to close at S$3.61. They have slumped 43% this year, among the worst performers on a Bloomberg gauge of carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Unlike many of its peers, the carrier has not cut any jobs, though it has redeployed some staff to work at hospitals and on the city state's public transport network. The government is spending S$93 billion — 20% of gross domestic product — to help people stay in work and support businesses.

Yet, job cuts were not being ruled out at Singapore Airlines, The Straits Times cited chief executive officer Goh Choon Phong as saying last month. The carrier, whose shares are down 43% this year, had about 28,000 staff as of the end of March.

Singapore Airlines is gradually restoring some routes, but there have been setbacks as fresh outbreaks flare up in places such as Melbourne, forcing it to suspend services to the Australian city. The airline expects passenger capacity in August and September to only be about 7% of pre-pandemic levels.