Preliminary traffic figures from the Association
of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) for the month of March 2020, show
that both international air passenger and air cargo demand
plummeted in the month the WHO declared COVID19 a global pandemic.
The number of countries imposing travel
restrictions globally more than doubled in March, which led to
sharp falls in passenger demand, forcing drastic cutbacks in
airline operating schedules and the grounding of thousands of
Airlines continued to operate dedicated
all-freighter services, with some airlines also operating
cargo-only passenger aircraft flights, partially compensating for
the absence of belly-hold capacity resulting from the mass
cancellations of passenger services.
Asia Pacific airlines carried a combined total of
only 8.8 million international passengers in March, representing a
steep 72.9% decline compared to the same month last year.
Demand in revenue passenger kilometres
(RPKs) fell by 70.7%, whilst available seat capacity fell by 55.6%
year-on-year, leading to a 27.4 percentage point plunge in the
average international passenger load factor to 52.9% in March.
Air cargo demand held up relatively well, but was
impacted by supply chain disruptions and weakening business and
consumer confidence in light of increasing uncertainty and rising
unemployment in major economies across the world.
The air cargo sector is playing a very active role
in the transportation of much-needed medical equipment and
supplies to countries around the world.
Asia Pacific airlines saw international air cargo
demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) decline by
21.1% year-on-year in March.
Offered freight capacity fell by 31.1%,
reflecting significant reductions in belly-hold cargo capacity on
cancelled passenger services. As a result, the average
international freight load factor was 9.1 percentage points higher
at 71.9% for the month.
Commenting on the results, Mr. Subhas Menon, AAPA
Director General, said, "The sharp escalation in the number of
COVID19 cases beyond Asia, severely impacted travel on
international routes in March, with many countries effectively
sealing off their borders. Overall, Asian carriers saw a 38%
decline in the number of international passengers carried to a
combined total of 59 million in the first quarter of the year.
During the same period, international air cargo demand fell by
10%, following declines in new export orders."
Looking ahead, Mr. Menon said, "There is great
uncertainty as to how long the global slump will persist.
Businesses and consumers are likely to remain risk averse until
more is known about the nature and duration of the COVID19
pandemic spread. Governments would persist in their efforts to
suppress the spread of the virus through the imposition of strict
measures on social distancing, movement restrictions and border
controls. Even though Asia Pacific airlines are facing
unprecedented challenges operationally and financially, they have
been maintaining air connectivity by flying stranded people home
and transporting essential supplies to places which need them
"The progress of the pandemic varies in each
country. The eventual recovery in travel demand is expected to be
slow and sporadic. The industry cannot stay grounded for too long
as it would be to the detriment of not only aviation but also
global trade, tourism and the wider economy. Governments need to
come together to agree on a harmonised mitigation framework, that
is supported by public health professionals and all industry
stakeholders, to restart aviation without too much delay.
"The airline industry plays a vital role in
times of crisis and in its recovery. Aviation is a vital conduit
for economic, tourism and social development. AAPA appeals to
governments to actively progress discussions to restart aviation
in a timely manner."