KUALA LUMPUR, 12 January 2022: Preliminary November 2021 traffic figures released Tuesday by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed notable improvement in international air passenger demand as some regional governments began to relax the strict border restrictions imposed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron
variant in late November has since raised uncertainty over recovery prospects.

Overall volumes remain significantly depressed as the 1.6
million international passengers carried by the region’s airlines in November
was just 5.2% of the corresponding pre-pandemic month in 2019. Measured in
revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), international passenger demand averaged
7.1% of 2019 levels, indicating the relative strength of longer-haul markets.
Available seat capacity was 16.6% of the same month in 2019, with the
international passenger load factor averaging 34.1% for the month.

With Covid-19 cases stabilising amidst rising vaccination rates across the region, improving manufacturing conditions and strong year-end export orders resulted in another month of robust growth in international air cargo markets.

For the region’s airlines, international air cargo demand,
in freight tonne-kilometre (FTK) terms, grew by 16.5% year-on-year in November,
staying above volumes recorded in the pre-pandemic months of 2019. The
international freight load factor remained elevated, averaging 73.2% for the
month after accounting for an 11.8% year-on-year expansion in offered freight

Commenting on the results, AAPA director-general Subhas
Menon said: “For the first 11 months of the year, international passenger
volumes were 4% of the same period in 2019. Although overall traffic volumes
remain significantly depressed compared to pre-pandemic levels, the recent
relaxation of some border restrictions and establishment of vaccinated travel
lanes are welcome moves towards the restoration of international air travel in
the region.”

“Meanwhile, the resilience of the cargo sector continues to
be an important lifeline for the region’s airlines during this pandemic. On the
other hand, oil prices have risen significantly, with jet fuel prices averaging
US$92 per barrel in November, almost double of the corresponding month in 2020,
adding to the challenges airlines face in a bid to restore profitability.”

Menon concluded, “Overall, full restoration of international
air travel remains some way off. The abrupt re-imposition of travel
restrictions by many governments in the face of the rising spread of the
Omicron variant threatens to hold back the long-awaited revival of Asia’s
travel and tourism industry. Collaboration and coordination of industry
stakeholders across borders are critical to the safe and sustained resumption
of international air travel, without which, the recovery journey will likely be
volatile and uneven.”