KUALA LUMPUR, 28 January 2022: Covid-19 and harsh border
restrictions continued to decimate international air passenger demand for the
region’s airlines throughout 2021, dashing hopes of recovery in air travel
markets, according to the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines.

AAPA’s preliminary 2021 traffic results showed that the 16.7
million international passengers carried in the year 2021 represented just 4.4%
of the volumes recorded in pre-pandemic 2019, whilst offered seat capacity
averaged 13.8% of the levels registered in 2019.

For the full year, the international passenger load factor
was a paltry 32%, underscoring the ongoing challenging conditions faced by the
region’s airlines in the passenger sector.

On the other hand, international air cargo markets saw
encouraging growth over the course of the year. With major manufacturing hubs
located in the region, Asia Pacific airlines benefitted from buoyant export
demand for consumer and intermediate goods. In addition, supply chain
bottlenecks at container shipping ports boosted demand for shipments by air.

For the full year 2021, international air cargo demand as
measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) registered a robust 20.1%
year-on-year increase, after posting a 15.4% annual decline in the year 2020
when the widening spread of the Covid-19 pandemic severely curbed economic
growth across the world.

Compared to the growth in demand, offered freight capacity
expanded at a markedly slower pace of 8.1% in 2021, as the drastically reduced
international passenger operations adversely affected belly-hold cargo
capacity, although this was partly mitigated by the deployment of cargo-only
passenger flights and increased freighter operations. As a result, the
international freight load factor climbed 7.4 percentage points to 74.3%, the
highest annual average on record.

Commenting on the results, AAPA Director-General Subhas
Menon said: “For a second year running, international passenger travel
remained severely suppressed, as a result of strict border measures imposed
throughout the region and elsewhere. It is the worst crisis the region’s
airlines have ever faced in terms of duration and depth.”

“As vaccination programmes got underway, some governments
began to ease travel restrictions in the latter part of the year, supporting
some improvement in the number of international passengers carried in December
to 7.6% of 2019 volumes. However, the emergence of the Omicron variant has put
the brakes on recovery.”

He added: “The air cargo business segment has been a
silver lining for the aviation industry, with strong demand helping to mitigate
the loss in passenger revenue partially. In FTK terms, international air cargo
demand for the year 2021 has recovered to just above pre-crisis levels.”

Menon concluded: “Overall, whilst 2021 will be remembered as one of the most challenging years for the region’s airlines, it has also demonstrated the industry’s extraordinary resilience as airlines continue to play a vital role in connecting people and transporting essential goods across the world. For meaningful recovery to take place, border restrictions would need to be eased on a consistent basis, and the current multi-layered travel requirements streamlined and simplified for travellers. Collaboration among aviation stakeholders and governments is key to the safe and sustained resumption of air travel.”

(Source: AAPA)