AAPA: Asia-Pacific airline traffic still depressed

Airlines around the world, including Cathay, had to ground thousands of planes at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Use this onePreliminary October 2020 traffic figures released Wednesday (2 December) by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) underscored the devastating impact of prolonged border closures and travel restrictions on international passenger demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while relatively firm demand for air cargo reinforces the need to restore network connectivity given potential capacity shortages.

Airlines like Singapore Air have had to ground thousands of planes. (PHOTO: Steve Strike/Outback Photographics)

Crippled by the lack of progress in the reopening of borders in the region, Asia-Pacific airlines carried only 1.5 million international passengers in October, just 4.9 percent of the 31.3 million that travelled in the same month last year. Offered seat capacity was comparatively higher but still represented just 12.7 percent of October 2019 volumes. The international passenger load factor averaged only 30 percent for the month, significantly below the levels required for airlines to achieve positive cash flow. Meanwhile, against a backdrop of further improvements to overall business conditions globally, international air cargo demand remained relatively firm, although traffic as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) terms was still 13 percent below last year’s level in October, held back by the lack of passenger service bellyhold space. Consequently, the average international freight load factor climbed 9.7 percentage points higher to 71.4 percent for the month.

In January and February, Changi Airport in Singapore was full of passengers. Now a lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

AAPA Director General Subhas Menon said “prolonged border restrictions have led to precipitous declines in air traffic and global connectivity, with Asia-Pacific alone suffering a 76 percent plunge. The dismal numbers underscore the severity of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline industry. While government financial support lent critical lifelines to some airlines, already a number of carriers are being restructured, while others may not survive this protracted crisis.

Menon also said “the desire to travel remains strong, evidenced by the marked recovery in domestic travel markets where movement restrictions have been relaxed. Air transport is an enabler of economic activity, and an indispensable conduit for global transport, trade and tourism. AAPA calls on governments to redouble their efforts to work cooperatively with other governments and industry stakeholders to safely restart international air travel. Governments must heed calls to adopt and implement mutually agreed protocols. New ICAO guidance materials developed in conjunction with WHO, CDC and ECDC, recommend incorporating harmonised testing as part of a multi-layered and risk-managed approach to facilitate international air transport. As 2021 beckons, Asia Pacific aviation is ready and willing to play its part in a successful restart and recovery. Airlines will also play a critical role in ensuring that the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is accomplished in a timely and efficient manner once the necessary regulatory approvals have been confirmed and production can be scaled up accordingly.”

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