Preliminary August 2021 traffic figures released by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed that international air cargo markets remained resilient, propelled by ongoing expansion in e-commerce and demand for intermediate goods. On the other hand, severe weakness in international air travel persisted, as governments maintained strict border control measures amid the escalation in COVID-19 cases across the region.
For the month of August, the 1.4 million international passengers carried by the region’s airlines was just 4 percent of the 34 million registered in August 2019, underscoring the continued absence of a revival in demand, in stark contrast to the summer months prior to the onset of this global health crisis. With available seat capacity averaging 13.7 percent of pre-pandemic levels, the international passenger load factor remained under pressure, averaging just 34.7 percent in August.
Supply congestion in major exporting ports such as in China increased demand for the transportation of merchandise by air, contributing to the 26 percent year-on-year growth in international air cargo demand as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) in August. Despite the supportive demand conditions, limited bellyhold space resulting from the low number of flights continued to constrain freight capacity, which saw a comparatively slower 17.8 percent year-on-year increase. As a result, the average international freight load factor of 76 percent for the month was close to the historical high achieved in July.
Commenting on the results, Subhas Menon, AAPA director general, said, “International travel markets in Asia have been in stasis, while gradual recovery has resumed in other regions. Meanwhile, air freight demand continues to drive the region’s airline operations. While the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant indicates there is no immediate end in sight to the global pandemic, the acceleration in domestic vaccination roll-outs in a number of Asian economies is a positive step towards the resumption of air travel, as seen in the progressive relaxation of border controls in some countries. Indeed, some governments in the region have begun to pave the way with the recent reopening of selected destinations to domestic and international arrivals.”
“Nevertheless, vaccination inequity remains a major stumbling block to the reopening of borders in the region, especially in places that have little to no access to vaccines. With travel and tourism as key contributors to many of the region’s economies, the lack of progress on this front will continue to impact the many livelihoods that depend on these sectors,” Menon said. “In addition to accelerating access to vaccines, we also call on governments to refrain from unilateral border measures that will only serve to hinder the much needed recovery of air travel and the wider economy. AAPA continues to advocate for an objective risk-based basis for the easing of border restrictions for quarantine-free travel, in line with WHO and ICAO guidelines.”