Asia Pacific airlines struggle to recover

KUALA LUMPUR, 30 March 2022: Preliminary February 2022 traffic figures released Tuesday by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) show ongoing weakness in international air passenger markets as the surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Omicron variant continues to hold back any meaningful recovery in demand in the Asia Pacific region, as seen in February’s data that closed with 2.5 million international passengers travelling on the region’s carriers, just 8.4% of the 30.3 million in the corresponding month of 2019.

Reflecting the relative strength of longer-haul markets, international passenger demand in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) averaged 9.9% of 2019 volumes. The international passenger load factor averaged 41.7% for the month, with available seat capacity at 19.2% of 2019 levels.

On the other hand, international air cargo markets held steady, underpinned by strong consumer and business demand. Ongoing supply chain challenges faced by maritime shipping also supported demand for shipments by air.

Overall, international air cargo demand in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) edged 0.2% higher than February’s year-on-year, with volumes close to 9% above the corresponding month in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. Offered freight capacity expanded by 4.7% year-on-year, resulting in a 3.1 percentage point decline in the average international freight load factor to 69.4% for the month.

Commenting on the results, AAPA director-general Subhas Menon said: “Taken together, the first two months of the year saw a 150% year-on-year increase in international passenger traffic, although demand remained suppressed when compared to 2019 levels. Meanwhile, further expansion in the global manufacturing sector has supported air cargo markets.”

Menon added, “Nevertheless, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine at the end of February, Asian airlines face mounting challenges. Elevated fuel prices, airspace closures, and an overall increase in inflationary pressures will weigh heavily on both passenger and cargo business segments.”

“On the other hand, there has been increasing momentum towards the re-opening of borders and easing of travel restrictions in the Asia Pacific region. This is positive news for the region’s airlines, which since the onset of the pandemic, have seen demand held back as a result of the repeated imposition of strict border control measures.”

He concluded, “The relaxation of travel restrictions comes about as governments move towards an endemic approach to Covid-19. As such, AAPA continues to urge more governments to collaborate across borders in paving the way for the safe and sustainable restoration of international air travel and global mobility.”