COVID-19: AAPA says Asia-Pacific traffic ‘collapses’ in April as international flights remain restricted

Cargo market decline also ‘deepens’ as pandemic continues to keep aviation restricted

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The main trade group for some of the top airlines in the Asia-Pacific region, AAPA, said Wednesday (27 May) that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to batter the industry with international travel basically at a standstill while some domestic traffic is returning to China and India.

A screenshot of the COVID-19 tracking site at Johns Hopkins University taken on 27 May. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Preliminary April traffic figures released by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed that Asia-Pacific airlines saw international passenger numbers plunge 98.8 percent year-on-year to a combined total of just 368,000 passengers in April compared to the 31.9 million carried in the same month last year. The average international passenger load factor slumped to a historical low of 28 percent for the month as available seat capacity declined by 94.6 percent.

The association said air cargo markets remained active but were affected by weakening demand and disruptions to global supply chains, including the sharp reduction in passenger belly-hold capacity. As a result, Asian airlines saw air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK), fall by 28.3 percent year-on-year in April, AAPA said. In addition, the grounding of most of the region’s passenger fleets further reduced air cargo capacity in the market. Although partly mitigated by additional freighter operations and the deployment of cargo-only passenger flights, offered freight capacity fell by 38.3 percent, leading to a 9.4 percentage point increase in the average international freight load factor to 67.5 percent for the month.

“The April traffic numbers underscore the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global air travel markets,” said Subhas Menon, AAPA’s director general. “Uncertainty remains as to how long the crisis will persist. Nevertheless, with infection curves showing signs of flattening, it is hoped that conditions are beginning to bottom out. While severe travel restrictions continue to limit the early restart of aviation activity, there are some encouraging signs in the market.

“A number of airlines have begun restoring domestic flights, while a small number of international flights are still being operated, with plans to operate additional services as border restrictions are progressively relaxed. However, patchy, uncoordinated measures across countries, including various screening protocols and often onerous quarantine requirements, are deterring passengers from flying, and slowing the process of restarting aviation.”

Airlines like Cathay Pacific have had to ground hundreds of planes as they deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 virus, which has a major impact on world tourism as countries have closed their borders. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Menon also said countries in the Asia-Pacific region were the first to encounter COVID-19 and are the first to witness some stabilisation and degree of control over the spread of the disease.

“Hopefully, the region can also lead the much-needed recovery in air travel. The progressive resumption of international air services will only be possible if a globally harmonised, outcome-based mitigation framework is adopted across countries. We welcome ICAO’s leadership in setting up its COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) to recommend strategic priorities and policies for States and industry operators. Asia-Pacific airlines remain committed to working closely with governments and relevant international bodies towards a timely restoration of air services, and supporting the revival of trade, tourism, economic and social activity.”

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Asian Aviation
Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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