After a tough 2020, Asia-Pacific airline executives caution that challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic have yet to be left behind.

Mandy Ng, chief executive of Hong Kong low-cost carrier HK Express, says that while the airline had to shut down for a period in 2020, work continued to integrate the carrier into the Cathay Pacific Group, which acquired it in 2019.

Aviation Festival Asia Panel

Source: Greg Waldron/FlightGlobal

The Aviation Festival Asia panel explored the outlook for the region’s airlines

“My team has been able to focus on transformation projects, which actually cover almost every single aspect of the business, from strategy planning to operations to customer service- basically everything,” she says.

“It was a tough time and it is still tough time for us in Hong Kong without any domestic travel, but we have kept the team intact, kept the team focused on the future, and invested for the future.”

Ng made the remarks during a panel discussion during the Aviation Festival Asia virtual event. She was joined on the panel by Sourav Sinha, chief information officer of IndiGo and Siew Shan Sim, chief financial officer of AirAsia Berhad.

Ng added that demand is still “quite uncertain” owing to the various Covid-19 outbreaks in the region. Still, by the end of 2021, HK Express hopes to be operating around 20-30% of its pre-pandemic capacity.

AirAsia’s Sim says that 2021 will remained subdued for the industry because regional vaccine rollouts are lagging those in countries such as the USA and United Kingdom.

She also notes that domestic markets offer some salvation, pointing out that when Thailand is not under a Covid-19 lockdown, Thai AirAsia actually operates more than its pre-pandemic domestic capacity.

Sim adds that the airline industry has never been through such a crisis. In past crises, the airline has had a sharp ‘V-shaped’ recovery. The recovery from Covid-19 is likely to be ‘W-Shaped’, with ups and downs.

IndiGo’s Sinha stressed how unpredictable things are. In February, India’s domestic traffic was recovering strongly, but then the second wave of Covid-19 hit, hammering demand. Still, IndiGo is already back to 30-35% of pre-pandemic capacity, with loads improving.

He agrees with the view that the recovery will remain choppy owing to potential future waves of Covid-19.

Looking to the future, Sinha says that consumption in the Asia-Pacific will be half the world’s total in the coming decade, and this bodes extremely well for aviation. “This gives us a clear indication that this is a region that will grow.”