The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) warns that the Ukraine crisis and higher fuel costs will hurt the region’s airlines, which are still struggling with travel restrictions.

During January, the 40 carriers AAPA tracks carried 2.7 million international passengers, says the airline grouping. While this was doubled the number carried in January 2021, it was just 8.7% of the international passengers carried in January 2019, one year before the coronavirus pandemic emerged from Wuhan, China.

Mahe Maldives covid coronavirus

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Passengers at Mahe International Airport in December 2021

January’s international ASKs grew 43.4% from a year earlier, and international RPKs doubled, but both metrics were well down from January 2019. January 2021’s ASKS were just 17.9% of January 2019 levels, while RPKs were just 8.9%.

The international Passenger load factor for January 2022 rose 13 percentage points to 41.3%.

“Travel restrictions along with uncertainties resulting from the rise in Omicron infections dampened the anticipated recovery in international travel at the start of the new year,” says AAPA director general Subhas Menon.

“Nevertheless, in the light of increased vaccination rates and the relatively reduced risk of severe illness from the transmission of the Omicron variant, an increasing number of Asian governments have since adapted to living with Covid-19, including reversing or reducing international travel restrictions. As we move into 2022, recovery in international air travel should gain momentum.”

The only bright spot at the moment is cargo. January’s international FTKs rose 5.1% from a year earlier. The freight load factor, however, dipped 2.2 percentage points to 69.4%, mainly owing to 8.5% growth in year-on-year freight capacity.

“Airlines still face challenging operating conditions,” adds Menon.

“The current escalating conflict in Ukraine may have a wider operational and economic impact on Asian airlines, whilst elevated fuel prices threaten to suppress earnings in an industry already struggling to survive. While travel restrictions have been relaxed, much more progress can be achieved to increase confidence in the travel process, with greater harmonization and easing of cross border travel measures based on risk assessment.”