The Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) released preliminary traffic figures for the full calendar year of 2019 that showed international air passenger markets had moderated against a “backdrop of a slowdown in the global economy, alongside uncertainties surrounding trade negotiations”.
The region’s airlines registered a 4.2 percent increase in the number of international passengers carried to a combined 375.5 million in 2019. Measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), demand grew by 4.1 percent, reflecting the relative strength of both short and long-haul travel markets. After accounting for a 3.7 percent increase in available seat capacity, the average international passenger load factor edged 0.3 percentage points higher to 80.9 percent for the year.
International air cargo demand as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) fell by 5.1 percent in 2019, following the 1.6 percent decline registered in the previous year. Offered freight capacity grew by 1.3 percent, resulting in a 3.9 percentage point drop in the average international freight load factor to 59.5 percent for the year.
Andrew Herdman, AAPA’s outgoing director general, said: “Asian airlines saw combined international passenger numbers increase by a relatively moderate 4.2 percent for the year, compared with the stronger annual growth rates seen in preceding years. While increased geopolitical and trade tensions may have affected business confidence levels and overall traffic demand, new routes and frequencies providing more options to travellers as well as attractive air fares continued to drive passenger numbers higher in 2019, supported by ongoing regional economic expansion. Meanwhile, air cargo markets experienced a very challenging 2019, with the 5.1 percent drop in demand marking the steepest fall since the global financial crisis. Declines in new export orders throughout the course of the year led to lower demand for air shipments. Overall, in 2019, Asian airlines faced an intensely competitive operating environment, with downward pressure on yields and profitability, only partially alleviated by the 7.2 percent fall in global jet fuel prices to an average of US$79 per barrel for the year.
Looking ahead, Herdman said: “The general outlook for 2020 was already clouded by uncertainty over prospects for the global economy and still unresolved trade disputes. The recent 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak has now been categorised by the World Health Organization as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The related imposition of travel restrictions and widespread public concern has led to significant falls in demand for air travel on routes to/from and within China, and corresponding adjustments to airline schedules. Airlines continue to closely monitor further developments, and are operating in accordance with established standards and practices developed in conjunction with public health authorities regarding outbreaks of communicable diseases.”