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Asia’s airline traffic remains depressed

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KUALA LUMPUR, 1 March 2022: Preliminary January 2022 traffic figures released Monday by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed international passenger demand remained depressed compared to pre-pandemic levels caused by travel restrictions due to the Omicron variant.

The region’s airlines carried a combined 2.7 million international passengers in January, representing 8.1% of the 35.2 million recorded during the same month in 2019. Measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), international passenger demand averaged only 8.9% of 2019 levels, while available seat capacity was 17.9% of 2019 volumes. The international passenger load factor averaged 41.3%, the second consecutive month where load factors surpassed the 40% mark.

Meanwhile, the opening month of 2022 saw further growth in international air cargo markets, underpinned by increased shipments ahead of the Lunar New Year festive period. In addition, global manufacturing activity, while moderating slightly due to Omicron related disruptions, remained largely supportive.

Overall, in January, international air cargo demand as measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) recorded a 5.1% year-on-year increase, on top of the substantial 20.2% annual increase achieved for the full year 2021. The international freight load factor fell slightly, by 2.2 percentage points to a still elevated 69.4%, after accounting for an 8.5% year-on-year expansion in offered freight capacity.

Commenting on the results, AAPA director general Subhas Menon said: “Travel restrictions along with uncertainties resulting from the rise in Omicron infections dampened the anticipated recovery in international travel at the start of the new year.”

“Nevertheless, in the light of increased vaccination rates and the relatively reduced risk of severe illness from the transmission of the Omicron variant, an increasing number of Asian governments have since adapted to living with Covid-19, including reversing or reducing international travel restrictions. As we move into 2022, recovery in international air travel should gain momentum.

“Airlines still face challenging operating conditions. The current escalating conflict in Ukraine may have a wider operational and economic impact on Asian airlines, whilst elevated fuel prices threaten to suppress earnings in an industry already struggling to survive.” 

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