The best line of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) media conference on Monday (16 November) came at the end of the nearly 90-minute session held by the director general, Subhas Menon, when he said the “motto from American Express is ‘don’t leave home without it’ but the motto for Asia-Pacific seems to be ‘don’t leave home’.”
The online press gaggle came after the AAPA held its annual Assembly of Presidents virtually with Menon telling reporters “who would have thought 12 months ago we’d be having a virtual meeting and the (COVID-19) virus spread affecting the world.” Menon went on to reiterate the various points that AAPA and every other aviation trade association has been making for months: Borders should be reopened with governments using pre-flight tests as a way to head off the further spread of COVID-19.
Menon, who came to the post of director general just this year as the pandemic was breaking out across the world, pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region had the lowest infection rates in the world but the highest number of border closures and said he hoped that governments in the region would reconsider their travel restrictions.
The director general also said domestic travel in places like China are picking back up to pre-COVID-19 levels but international traffic was still at a standstill. “The situation is dire globally but it doesn’t have to be so dire in Asia-Pacific,” Menon said, adding that the cargo business is the “the silver lining”, but again, the international shutdown in aviation has put a chokehold on bellyhold cargo that would be put to use in transporting a vaccine when and if one is approved.
Menon also said the industry in Asia has 1.8 million jobs at risk and could lose US$29 billion by the end of the year if borders don’t reopen and that airlines regionally are “living from hand to mouth” as they look for government support and support from shareholders, lenders, and other creditors.
Menon said he did not believe there was going to be widespread “traditional” consolidation of airlines in Asia-Pacific because airlines are focussed on their own survival, conserving cash and right-sizing their fleets to deal with the downturn. “I think 2020 will be the worst year on record and it has been a really difficult situation. Probably what we will see in 2021 is going to be better and that a successful vaccine will “be a shot in the arm” for the industry. It was unclear if the pun was intentional or not.
Menon also addressed opposition to government support for airlines in some quarters, saying the industry faced an “existential crisis” not of their own making and blamed governments for much of the problems. “If airlines can’t fly to earn their keep it’s difficult to overcome their costs…governments need to support their airlines”, he said.
Addressing the possibility of meeting in the real world next year, Menon said it would be up to the host airline, which in this case would be Thai Airways, which is set to take over the chair position of the association.