The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) is optimistic about the future of air travel in the region, but stresses that rebooting the air travel sector will take substantial coordination.

Subhas Menon is the new director general of the AAPA, succeeding Andrew Herdman. Prior to joining the association he spent 35 years with Singapore Airlines where he worked in a number of roles. 

He subscribes to the view that air travel in the region, which has been sharply reduced owing to the coronavirus pandemic, will first start to recover domestically, then regionally, and finally internationally.

“When we talk about cross-border traffic and what we are faced with today, almost every country has imposed travel restrictions and travel bans, creating a labyrinth of travel restrictions and travel bans that we are working against,” he says.

“In order for the international traffic to pick up with a restart, we need to have a multilateral, harmonised, consistent, and coherent framework.”

Menon is confident that the sector will bounce back. He points to strong demand for air cargo, comparing it to a “weather vane” showing the wind direction.

“[Air cargo] is an indication of the level of trade and globalisation. There is no rewinding [globalisation], and the need for air cargo flights to maintain supply chains is a very good indication of how things are going to go in the future.”

AAPA members have been deeply impacted by the crisis. Two of its core members, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways, have no domestic market to fall back on.

Menon stresses that the resumption of international air travel will require a range of parties working together to bring it back. Parties with an interest include not only aviation authorities, airlines, and airports, but health officials and other industry players in the travel ecosystem.

One challenge will be the varying levels of coronavirus control in different countries.

“That’s not to say that we shouldn’t work on this multilateral framework,” says Menon. “That trust will come when governments show that they are able to cope with the spread of the disease and that they have protocols in place to address any further spikes. That is a decision that the government can make…maybe initially bilaterally, but later expanding to a multilateral framework.”

As for more immediate changes in airline operations, Menon agrees that carriers will, for a time at least, favour smaller types so as to capture demand in the most economical manner.

“There’s nothing to suggest that things will not pick up steam again after a period of time when the world has learned to cope with this pandemic.”