AAPA: International travel demand still depressed, robust growth in air cargo demand

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Countries like Singapore are slowly reopening and trying to lure tourists and business travellers. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Preliminary October 2021 traffic figures released Thursday (25 November) by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) revealed international air passenger demand remained significantly depressed, with the impact from the recent easing of border restrictions yet to be seen. By contrast, air cargo markets were robust, benefitting from sustained global demand and capacity shortages.

In aggregate, only 1.2 million international passengers travelled on the region’s carriers in October, 3.9 percent of the 31 million passengers recorded in the same month of 2019. Measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), international passenger demand was 5.6 percent of pre-pandemic levels while available seat capacity averaged 14.4 percent of the corresponding month in 2019. As a result, the international passenger load factor was a lowly 30.9 percent for the month.

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Carriers like Korean Air are relying on cargo to help them survive the pandemic. (PHOTO: Korean Air)

Asia-Pacific airlines recorded another month of vigorous growth in international air cargo demand in October, as reflected in the 22.3 percent year-on-year increase in freight tonne kilometre (FTK) terms. Offered freight capacity expanded by a significant 20 percent year-on-year, albeit at a relatively slower pace than the growth in demand, leading to an elevated average international freight load factor of 74.2 percent for the month.

“While October continued to be an extremely challenging month for international travel markets, solid orders for consumer goods and industrial components buoyed air cargo demand, especially as retailers sought to increase stock levels ahead of the year-end holiday season and major shopping events. In addition, supply chain congestion at some shipping hubs boosted demand for air shipments,” said Subhas Menon, AAPA director general.

“While the gradual reopening of borders by governments is a welcome move, what is sorely needed is the harmonisation of travel policies and health protocols, including measures related to testing, vaccination recognition and digital verification,” Menon said. “This will reduce complexity and confusion among passengers and carriers, which will in turn help boost confidence in the travel process. In order for air travel recovery to be sustained over the coming year, we urge more governments to collaborate across borders on travel measures and health-related protocols, in line with ICAO and WHO guidelines, so that air travel is once again accessible to the wider public.”

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