Preliminary traffic figures released by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed that international passenger markets remained weak with unabating border restrictions particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. This has been exacerbated by the uneven progress in vaccination rollouts and rapid resurgence in COVID-19 transmissions in some countries, particularly India.
Reflecting the dire operating conditions, only 1.1 million international passengers flew on the region’s carriers in March, equivalent to 13.2 percent of passenger volumes in the same month last year when travel was already in sharp decline. Available seat capacity averaged 27 percent of the previous year’s volumes, as the majority of the region’s commercial passenger fleets remained grounded. The international passenger load factor fell by 29.4 percentage points to average 23.8 percent for the month.
In contrast to the travel and tourism sectors, overall rising business confidence and e-commerce growth fuelled air cargo demand, with congestion at shipping ports spurring a shift to the speedier transportation of goods by air. As a result, international air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK), grew by 16.1 percent year-on-year in the month of March, which has been the best performing month since December 2019. Offered freight capacity rose by a comparatively slower 12.7 percent year-on-year, leading to a 2.2 percentage point increase in the average international freight load factor to 74.3 percent for the month.
Commenting on the results, Subhas Menon, AAPA director general said, “March marks a full year since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Asian airlines have been faced with major challenges over the past twelve months and have evolved their strategies to stay afloat, by adapting to changing demand patterns and diversifying their revenue base, whilst undertaking significant cost cutting measures. Much needed government support has also helped the industry survive. The recent commencement of travel between Australia and New Zealand is certainly a welcome step. In addition, quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Hong Kong, announced for end May, with talks of more travel bubbles in the pipeline, provide hope for a gradual restart of international air travel this year.
“It is apparent that we will need to learn to live with COVID-19,” Menon said. “As such, it is imperative that governments across the world embrace harmonised risk-based measures that safely reopen air travel. This includes digitalisation of travel health certificates, as well as the implementation of contactless and seamless travel measures in accordance with ICAO and WHO guidelines, to support travel recovery. The association remains committed in working closely with governments to aid the resumption of air travel in a smart, safe and sustainable way.”