COVID-19: AAPA says preliminary regional traffic results for March dropped steeply

Global travel restrictions doubled in March, leading to sharp falls in passenger demand, forcing drastic cutbacks in airline operating schedules and the grounding of thousands of aircraft.

Empty airport
Empty check-in counters at Singapore's Changi Airport. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The main trade association for many of Asia’s top air carriers said preliminary traffic figures showed both international air passenger and air cargo demand plummeted in March as COVID-19 infections spread worldwide and the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified the virus as a global pandemic.

A screenshot taken on 29 April of the virus tracking website at Johns Hopkins University. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) said Asia-Pacific airlines carried a combined total of only 8.8 million international passengers in March, representing a steep 72.9 percent decline compared to the same month last year. Demand in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) fell by 70.7 percent, while available seat capacity fell by 55.6 percent year-on-year, leading to a 27.4 percentage point plunge in the average international passenger load factor to 52.9 percent in March.

“The number of countries imposing travel restrictions globally more than doubled in March, which led to sharp falls in passenger demand, forcing drastic cutbacks in airline operating schedules and the grounding of thousands of aircraft,” the association said in statement announcing the data. “Airlines continued to operate dedicated all-freighter services, with some airlines also operating cargo-only passenger aircraft flights, partially compensating for the absence of belly-hold capacity resulting from the mass cancellations of passenger services,” it added.

Air cargo demand held up relatively well, but was impacted by supply chain disruptions and weakening business and consumer confidence in light of increasing uncertainty and rising unemployment in major economies across the world. The air cargo sector is playing a very active role in the transportation of much-needed medical equipment and supplies to countries around the world.

Asia Pacific airlines saw international air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) decline by 21.1 percent year-on-year in March. Offered freight capacity fell by 31.1 percent, reflecting significant reductions in belly-hold cargo capacity on cancelled passenger services. As a result, the average international freight load factor was 9.1 percentage points higher at 71.9 percent for the month.

Airlines around the globe, have parked their planes as traffic remains grounded. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

“The sharp escalation in the number of COVID-19 cases beyond Asia, severely impacted travel on international routes in March, with many countries effectively sealing off their borders,” said Subhas Menon, AAPA’s director general said. “Overall, Asian carriers saw a 38 percent decline in the number of international passengers carried to a combined total of 59 million in the first quarter of the year. During the same period, international air cargo demand fell by 10 percent, following declines in new export orders.”

Menon added that there “is great uncertainty as to how long the global slump will persist. Businesses and consumers are likely to remain risk averse until more is known about the nature and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic spread. Governments would persist in their efforts to suppress the spread of the virus through the imposition of strict measures on social distancing, movement restrictions and border controls. Even though Asia Pacific airlines are facing unprecedented challenges operationally and financially, they have been maintaining air connectivity by flying stranded people home and transporting essential supplies to places which need them most.”

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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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