AAPA: International passenger demand improves while air cargo markets record further growth

Sydney Airport during the early stages of the pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Preliminary November 2021 traffic figures released today (11 January) by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed notable improvement in international air passenger demand as some regional governments began to relax the strict border restrictions imposed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant in late November has since raised uncertainty over recovery prospects.

Overall volumes remain significantly depressed as the 1.6 million international passengers carried by the region’s airlines in November was just 5.2 percent of the corresponding pre-pandemic month in 2019. Measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), international passenger demand averaged 7.1 percent of 2019 levels, indicating relative strength of longer haul markets. Available seat capacity was 16.6 percent of the same month in 2019, with the international passenger load factor averaging 34.1 percent for the month.

Airlines around the world are leaning on cargo operations to keep planes flying. (PHOTO: Korean Air)

With COVID-19 cases stabilising amid rising vaccination rates across the region, improving manufacturing conditions and strong year-end export orders resulted in another month of robust growth in international air cargo markets. For the region’s airlines, international air cargo demand, in freight tonne kilometre (FTK) terms, grew by 16.5 percent year-on-year in November, staying above volumes recorded in the pre-pandemic months of 2019. The international freight load factor remained elevated, averaging 73.2 percent for the month, after accounting for an 11.8 percent year-on-year expansion in offered freight capacity.

“For the first 11 months of the year, international passenger volumes were 4 percent of the same period in 2019,” said Subhas Menon, AAPA’s director general. “Although overall traffic volumes remain significantly depressed compared to pre-pandemic levels, the recent relaxation of some border restrictions and establishment of vaccinated travel lanes are welcome moves towards the restoration of international air travel in the region. Meanwhile, the resilience of the cargo sector continues to be an important lifeline for the region’s airlines during this pandemic. On the other hand, oil prices have risen significantly, with jet fuel prices averaging US$92 per barrel in November, almost double of the corresponding month in 2020, adding to the challenges airlines face in a bid to restore profitability.

“Overall, full restoration of international air travel remains some way off,” Menon said. “The abrupt re-imposition of travel restrictions by many governments in the face of the rising spread of the Omicron variant threatens to hold back the long-awaited revival of Asia’s travel and tourism industry. Collaboration and coordination of industry stakeholders across borders are critical to the safe and sustained resumption of international air travel, without which, the recovery journey will likely be volatile and uneven.”

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