Another month of extremely weak international air passenger volumes continued amid an unrelenting rise in COVID-19 infections across Asia and elsewhere, preliminary July traffic figures released by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) show.
The number of international passengers carried by the region's airlines totalled 1.5 million in July, representing only 4.6 per cent of the 33 million that flew in the corresponding month of 2019. The international passenger load factor averaged 31.8 per cent, a sharp decline from the 82.6 per cent achieved in July 2019 while available seat capacity for the month was 13.5 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
With strong external demand and congestion at major shipping ports boosting demand for shipments by air, Asia Pacific airlines recorded a 26.8 per cent year-on-year increase in international air cargo demand as measured in freight tonne kilometres in July, slightly above the volumes recorded in July 2019.
The average international freight load factor climbed by 6.2 percentage points to 76.2 per cent for the month after accounting for a 16.4 per cent year-on-year increase in offered freight capacity.
More than a year into the pandemic, strict border restrictions and quarantine measures continue to have a devastating impact on international air travel, said Subhas Menon, AAPA Director General. "By contrast, air cargo remains the single bright spot for the region's airlines, with strong external demand boosting cargo revenue. However, this remains largely insufficient in mitigating the drastic fall in passenger volumes."
Menon said progress in vaccination rollouts across the region remains slow as many countries still face challenges in procuring supplies and suffer from resource constraints.
Some governments have announced phased reopening plans, which include setting pathways to resuming international travel, based on risk-based assessments and traveller vaccination status. For air travel to restart meaningfully in the region, more governments will need to take similar steps towards relaxing border restrictions, preferably in coordination with counterparts.
"The outlook for air travel is dependent on further progress with vaccinations across Asia and globally. Crucially, greater collaboration among governments on harmonised cross-border measures is necessary, in line with ICAO and WHO recommendations," said Menon.