Preliminary January 2022 traffic figures released by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed international passenger demand remained markedly depressed compared to pre-pandemic levels, as a result of the reintroduction of onerous travel restrictions due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
The region’s airlines carried a combined 2.7 million international passengers in January, representing 8.1 percent of the 35.2 million recorded during the same month in 2019. Measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), international passenger demand averaged only 8.9 percent of 2019 levels, while available seat capacity was 17.9 percent of 2019 volumes. The international passenger load factor averaged 41.3 percent, the second consecutive month where load factors surpassed the 40 percent mark.
Meanwhile, the opening month of 2022 saw further growth in international air cargo markets, underpinned by increased shipments ahead of the Lunar New Year festive period. In addition, global manufacturing activity, while moderating slightly due to Omicron related disruptions, remained largely supportive. Overall, in January, international air cargo demand as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) recorded a 5.1 percent year-on-year increase, on top of the strong 20.2 percent annual increase achieved for the full year 2021. The international freight load factor fell slightly, by 2.2 percentage points to a still elevated 69.4 percent, after accounting for an 8.5 percent year-on-year expansion in offered freight capacity.
“Travel restrictions along with uncertainties resulting from the rise in Omicron infections dampened the anticipated recovery in international travel at the start of the new year,” said Subhas Menon, AAPA’s director general. “Nevertheless, in the light of increased vaccination rates and the relatively reduced risk of severe illness from the transmission of the Omicron variant, an increasing number of Asian governments have since adapted to living with COVID-19, including reversing or reducing international travel restrictions. As we move into 2022, recovery in international air travel should gain momentum.”
“Air cargo is a bright spot for Asian airlines, with strong demand for air shipments continuing unabated in January,” Menon said. “While year-on-year growth rates are expected to moderate in the coming months, conditions for air cargo remain positive, in tandem with further expansion in global economic activity. Airlines still face challenging operating conditions. The current escalating conflict in Ukraine may have a wider operational and economic impact on Asian airlines, whilst elevated fuel prices threaten to suppress earnings in an industry already struggling to survive. While travel restrictions have been relaxed, much more progress can be achieved to increase confidence in the travel process, with greater harmonisation and easing of cross border travel measures based on risk assessment. To this end, AAPA continues to work cooperatively with industry stakeholders and governments for the safe and sustained recovery in air travel.”