AAPA: Aviation in dire straits in Asia-Pacific region

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

Use thisThe 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’.”

AAPA Director General Subhas Menon. (PHOTO: IATA)

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.

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.

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