Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) saw a significant drop in passenger numbers due to ongoing political unrest in the Asian hub, according to figures released by the Hong Kong Airport Authority (AA) on 15 September.

This August, the international airport handled six million passengers and witnessed 35,655 air traffic movements, down 12.4% and 3.5% respectively compared to 2018, AA revealed in a statement.

Passenger traffic from the Chinese mainland, Southeast Asia and China’s Taiwan saw “significant declines” compared to the same period a year ago. The statement said airport and flight operations were disrupted by the assemblies at the airport on a number of days.

Cargo volume also plummeted during the month, falling 11.5% from a year earlier to 382,000 metric tonnes. International shipping and imports dived to 19% and 15% year-on-year, respectively, the AA said. Among key trading regions, cargo business pertaining to Southeast Asia and Mainland China “decreased most significantly”.

Commenting on the figures, executive director of AA’s airport operations C K Ng said: “In the past few months, there have been huge challenges to airport operations at times.”

The decline in numbers is a result of the anti-government protests which brought the airport operations to a standstill last month when protestors pressurised the government to respond to their demands over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

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Violent clashes broke out on 11 and 12 August after an unauthorised march went ahead, with riot police firing tear gas and water cannons and protesters launching petrol bombs. Protests inside the terminal forced operations to temporarily close and grounded hundreds of flights, while rallies outside blocked transport routes including the freeway leading to the airport.

In previous years, Hong Kong has been a popular destination for travellers. In August last year, Hong Kong saw 65 million total visitor arrivals – an 11.4% increase from 2017 – according to government statistics.

However, in the wake of the political unrest, countries such as Singapore, Australia, the US, the UK, and Ireland issued warnings for those travelling to Hong Kong urging travellers to exercise increased caution over the protests.

The HKIA is hardly alone in witnessing a decline in numbers. On 11 September, Hong Kong’s main carrier Cathay Pacific reported a decline in passenger and cargo numbers for August 2019. Cathay Pacific and its regional sister airline Cathay Dragon carried a total of 2,906,954 passengers last month – down 11.3% compared to August 2018.

Cathay Pacific’s group chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said August was an “incredibly challenging month, both for Cathay Pacific and for Hong Kong.”

“Overall tourist arrivals into the city were nearly half of what they usually are in what is normally a strong summer holiday month, and this has significantly affected the performance of our airlines,” Lam said.

“Our inbound Hong Kong traffic was down 38% while outbound was down 12% year-on-year, and we don’t anticipate September being any less difficult.”