KUALA LUMPUR, 18 November 2020: With cross border travel
effectively grounded, the Assembly of Presidents of the Association of Asia
Pacific Airlines (AAPA) focused on survival and continuity during their virtual
meeting last Friday.
The Assembly concluded with AAPA, the International Air
Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International Asia-Pacific
(ACI Asia-Pacific), jointly declaring their solidarity and commitment to work
with governments to revive air travel.
State of the Industry
The health crisis has triggered unimaginable losses for
airlines exceeding USD84 billion worldwide this year. Asia Pacific airlines
will account for more than a third of the losses or USD29 billion.
Among all regions, the fall in traffic is steepest in the
Asia Pacific. The state of international air travel is particularly grim, with
Asia Pacific airlines currently carrying less than 2 million international
passengers per month, compared to 39 million a month in 2019. Seat capacity on
international routes has accordingly fallen by 89% compared to 2019.
On a positive note, domestic travel is recovering well, with
traffic in September reaching 67% of what it was a year ago while domestic
capacity is already at 80%, benefitting from the timely relaxation of internal
travel restrictions in some countries.
The air cargo market is even more resilient, reflecting
relatively better demand for the transport of goods and supplies, and reached
83% of its 2019 level in September 2020, although the drastic decline in international
belly hold capacity is constraining global supply chains.
Throughout the pandemic, Asian airlines have persevered to
preserve basic mobility with repatriation flights as well as the transportation
of essential cargo, food and medical supplies. The industry is resolute in
adopting the ICAO CART guidelines and implementing objective risk management
measures to safeguard the safety and wellbeing of travellers.
Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the Asia Pacific
travel and tourism sector, traditionally the fastest growing market, with most
of the top-ten air travel routes in the world. Travel restrictions and blanket
quarantine requirements by governments have severely inhibited international
Abrupt re-impositions of border closures by some countries
due to the resurgence in Covid-19 cases have further dampened already weak
demand. As a result, international passenger demand has remained at extremely
low levels with little sign of any meaningful recovery as the year wore on.
After taking all possible means to avoid job losses
including slashing flights, deferring aircraft deliveries, suspending all
non-essential spending, freezing recruitment, offering furloughs and early
retirement schemes, many Asia Pacific airlines are now announcing job
redundancies. Some 1.8 million direct aviation jobs in the Asia Pacific are
potentially at risk as the pandemic persists and borders remain closed. More broadly,
the air transport sector accounts for 3.1% of Asia Pacific GDP underlining the
wider impact of travel restrictions on communities and livelihoods in the
As the first region to be confronted with the Covid-19
pandemic, most borders in the Asia Pacific region have been effectively closed
for several months, despite having achieved a relatively low infection rate.
Unfortunately, uncoordinated and patchy travel restrictions and blanket
quarantines are hampering the resumption and revival of air travel.
Efforts by governments to initiate green lanes, fast lanes
and travel corridors have not provided much respite from the decimation of
demand in the region, due to onerous requirements of such schemes. Nonetheless,
the launch of the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble in late November is a
positive step in the right direction.
Looking Ahead to 2021
It will take time for Covid-19 to abate and for a successful
vaccine to be widely available. The industry must learn to adapt and reassure
travellers that harmonised and sensible measures based on evidence have been
adopted. A realistic path to gradually reopening borders could start with pairs
of cities where the risk level is similarly low and the risk response equally
robust, as recommended by the WHO.
Strong multilateral collaboration among governments to relax
travel restrictions and quarantine requirements based on risk assessment and
medical evidence, will be key to the restart and recovery of the aviation
industry. Mutually recognised and harmonised measures such as comprehensive
pre-departure testing protocols are actively being pursued as a way forward in
reopening borders without onerous travel restrictions.
The Asia Pacific aviation industry continues to partner
governments in efforts to harmonise cross border measures and rebuild
confidence in air travel.
At the same time, the industry is sharpening its aviation
and health safety response capability further, as well as its focus on
established decarbonisation goals, in order to strengthen its resilience and
adaptability for the future.
Commenting on developments, AAPA director general, Subhas
Menon said: “Aviation is a global connector, playing a key role in social and
economic development, that can be harnessed to spur global recovery from the
pandemic. Countries that have largely contained the virus, will hopefully now
turn their attention to opening up their borders and revitalising travel and
tourism. The demand for cross border travel will return once the conditions are
conducive, as has been seen with the rebound in domestic travel once
restrictions were lifted.’’
“Resurgent travel and tourism would reinvigorate the global
recovery effort. As one united aviation community, the industry has reaffirmed
our shared mission to strengthen solidarity and cooperation with governments
and other stakeholders, to contain the spread of Covid-19, revive air travel
and secure its future contribution to positive social and economic