Preliminary May 2021 traffic figures released today (29 June) by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed international passenger traffic volumes remained at depressed levels, held back by strict border restrictions amidst concerns about the spread of COVID-19 variants. Only 1.3 million international passengers flew on the region’s carriers in May, representing just 4.3 percent of the volumes carried in the corresponding month of 2019. The international passenger load factor averaged 28.4 percent for the month, with available seat capacity at 12.3 percent of levels recorded in 2019.
Meanwhile, strong business and consumer demand globally drove demand for air cargo. For the month, international air cargo demand as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) saw a 23.1 percent year-on-year growth, significantly outpacing the 3.6 percent increase in offered freight capacity, as bellyhold space remained constrained due to limited commercial passenger operations. As a result, the average international freight load factor rose by 11.7 percentage points to 73.7 percent.
“Air cargo volumes carried by Asia-Pacific carriers have largely recovered to pre-pandemic volumes in response to strong demand. This contrasts starkly with the depressed state of international passenger traffic, which has remained largely stagnant with no improvements seen in over a year,” said Subhas Menon, AAPA director general. “The uneven pace of vaccinations throughout the world has delayed the recovery in international air travel. In some advanced economies, travel markets are slowly recovering as populations get vaccinated and business activities resume. However, the same cannot be said for the majority of the emerging market economies in Asia, where vaccination roll-outs remain slow due to supply constraints, logistical issues and limited manpower. As a result, the travel and tourism sectors in the region have continued to suffer as strict border controls remain in place. International passenger traffic carried by Asia Pacific airlines amount to barely 5 percent of pre-pandemic volumes.
“Renewed concerns over the appearance of new COVID-19 variants have held back any meaningful reopening of borders. This will have a negative impact on airline survival, and additional government support will likely be required as the crisis is prolonged. Overall, AAPA is committed to collaborating with governments and related stakeholders in progressing the safe, smart and sustainable resumption of international air travel,” said Menon.