AAPA says 2020 air travel ‘decimated’

Association says cargo could be a 'silver lining'

Empty check-in counters at Singapore's Changi Airport. The airport has shut down two terminals and halted construction on a new one due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Use this oneThe Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) said Friday (29 January) that air travel in the region was decimated in 2020 with its latest data underscoring “the collapse of international airline operations in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

AAPA Director General Subhas Menon said, “the dismal numbers underline the severity of the impact of the pandemic on the airline industry. The discovery of several effective vaccines towards the end of 2020 provided hope that recovery was on the horizon as large scale vaccinations of their people, will give governments the confidence to allow travellers from abroad without restrictions.”

AAPA said the 69 million passengers carried by Asia-Pacific airlines in the year 2020 represented only 18 percent of volumes recorded in 2019, an extent of decline in 12 months not seen in the region’s history of commercial aviation. Offered seat capacity was similarly just 19 percent of the levels recorded in 2019, while the international passenger load factor averaged 61 percent.

Asia-Pacific airlines account for over a third of global air cargo traffic with strong networks and logistics expertise built up over the years. During the global pandemic, the region’s carriers have played a vital role in transporting medical supplies including vaccines, personal protective equipment and other essential goods, even though capacity was severely restricted as a result of the wide scale grounding of passenger aircraft. As global economic activity rebounded in the latter half of the year, the increase in export orders grew with the rising demand for the speedy delivery of merchandise by air.

In December 2020, air cargo demand improved further in freight tonne kilometres (FTK), recording a single digit year on-year decline of 6.4 percent. For the calendar year, international air cargo demand fell by 15.5 percent, while offered freight capacity plunged by 24.4 percent. The average international freight load factor rose significantly, by 7 percentage points to 66.4 percent in 2020, with cargo yields offering a welcome boost to operating revenue, although airlines continued to face an existential crisis with commercial passenger operations remaining at a standstill.

Changi Airport in Singapore is still almost a ghost town in early 2021. A lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

“It will take time for the roll-out of vaccinations across the world, as well as for the pandemic to recede globally,” Menon said. “Looking ahead, many industry challenges remain, as restrictions on cross border travel will continue to affect air travel demand in 2021. We encourage governments to step up coordination efforts on cross border risk mitigation measures and health protocols. The implementation of harmonised protocols, incorporating the ICAO CART Take-Off Guidance, is imperative for the safe resumption of travel. Asia Pacific aviation is ready and willing to play its part in the successful restart and recovery in the region.”

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