Preliminary traffic results for the full calendar year 2021 released earlier this week by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed a continued decline in international air passenger demand for airlines in the region, as strict border restrictions are implemented in response to the protracted COVID-19 pandemic dashed hopes for the recovery of air transport markets.
Overall, the 16.7 million international passengers carried in 2021 represented only 4.4% of the volumes recorded in 2019 before the pandemic, while the available seat capacity averaged 13.8% of the levels recorded in 2019.
By contrast, international air cargo markets experienced encouraging growth during the year. With major manufacturing hubs located in the region, Asia-Pacific airlines have benefited from buoyant export demand for consumer and intermediate goods. Additionally, supply chain bottlenecks at container shipping ports have boosted demand for air shipments.
For the full year 2021, international air cargo demand, measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK), registered a solid 20.1% year-on-year increase, after recording an annual decline of 15.4% in 2020, when the increasing spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic of 19 severely dampened economic growth around the world.
Compared to the growth in demand, the freight capacity offered grew at a significantly slower pace of 8.1% in 2021, as the drastic reduction in international passenger operations negatively impacted the capacity of hold cargo, although this has been partly mitigated by the deployment of passenger-only cargo. flights and increased cargo 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 findings, Subhas Menon, Chief Executive of AAPA, said, “For a second consecutive year, international passenger travel remained severely suppressed, due to strict border measures imposed across the region and elsewhere. It is the worst crisis that airlines in the region have ever experienced. confronted in terms of duration and depth.”
He added: “The air cargo business segment has been a silver lining for the aviation industry, with strong demand helping to partially mitigate passenger revenue loss. In FTK terms, international air cargo demand for 2021 has recovered to just above pre-crisis levels.” Based in Kuala Lumpur, AAPA is the trade association for scheduled international airlines based in the Asia-Pacific region.