COVID-19: AAPA says Asia-Pacific traffic down 93% in first week of April as borders remain closed

Asian airlines need regulatory assistance in streamlining operations, scheduling flights and crew clearances to carry critical goods and people anxious to return home, AAPA says.

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Thousands of jets like these parked in Hong Kong are the order of the day as the COVID-19 virus brings passenger traffic to a halt. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

AAPA says Asia-Pacific traffic down 93% in first week of April as borders remain closed

The main trade group representing Asia-Pacific airlines said worldwide demand for air travel “has collapsed following border closures and other travel restrictions” and that the number of flights operated by Asia-Pacific airlines in the first week of April declined by 93 percent compared to normal levels of traffic established at the beginning of the year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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A screenshot of the coronavirus tracking site at Johns Hopkins University showing more than 2 million infections worldwide. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA), said  Monday (13 April) that several Asia-Pacific carriers have been mounting additional flights on an ad-hoc basis to meet the demand for repatriation flights for stranded passengers to return to their home countries.

“Amid border closures, shutdowns and lockdowns, Asia-Pacific airlines are striving to maintain critical air connectivity to continue transporting important supplies and serve the needs of people who still need to travel urgently, including skilled medical personnel and other essential service providers,” the association said in a statement.

AAPA said Asian airlines “need regulatory assistance in streamlining operations, scheduling flights and crew clearances to carry critical goods and people anxious to return home. The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines appeals to governments for support by granting the necessary flexibility on relaxing slot constraints, curfews on operating hours as well as by expediting approvals and exempting crew from quarantine requirements where necessary”, the statement read.

The association also said worldwide demand for air cargo declined by 19 percent in March 2020 compared to the same month last year “but is holding up relatively well despite economic disruption in many economies following measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19”.

Goods being shipped by air cargo include significant volumes of pharmaceuticals, medical protective equipment, and food supplies. Airlines have increased the number of services operated by dedicated freighter aircraft to partially compensate for the loss of belly-hold capacity resulting from the drastic cutbacks in passenger services. A number of Asian airlines have also been operating additional air cargo services using passenger aircraft adapted to carry cargo both in the belly-hold as well as in the cabin in the absence of passengers.

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AAPA Director General Subhas Menon. (PHOTO: File)

Newly installed AAPA Director General Subhas Menon said: “The current crisis is taking an enormous toll on Asian economies and people’s livelihoods across the region. Some 50 million people work in travel and tourism alone within the Asia-Pacific region. We recognise and applaud the efforts being made by many governments to offer financial assistance and support to the aviation industry as well as the wider travel and tourism sector.”

Menon added: “The Asia-Pacific aviation community is strongly committed to continuing to work closely with governments, public health authorities, and other international bodies to both respond to current challenges, and at the same time begin to make plans for recovery. Aviation has always been a key driver of economic and social development, nowhere more so than in the Asia-Pacific region, and will play an important role in the overall recovery effort.”

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Singapore. 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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