International air travel in the Asia-Pacific region remains extremely weak, although air cargo continues to prosper, says the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA).

The association says that conditions worsened for the region’s airlines in February owing to new Covid-19 variants, which lead to new border control measures.

Changi Terminal 3 Transit Hall

Source: Greg Waldron/FlightGlobal

The transit hall of Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 was largely empty on 28 March, 2021

During the month, preliminary figures show that the region’s airlines flew just 1.2 million international passengers, a 93.7% decline from the 18.3 million passengers carried in February 2019 – a month in which air travel was already slowing as the coronavirus pandemic extended beyond China, where it originated.

During the month, ASKs were just 14.9% of a year earlier, and the average international passenger load factor was 24.8%.

FTKs, however, rose 7.6% owing to a rise in trade activity and resilient business confidence. Still, the grounding of passenger aircraft and disruptions to container shipping pressured air freight capacity. While overall air freight capacity fell 9.2% year on year, freight load factors rose 11.1 percentage points to 71.7%.

“During the first two months of the year, Asian airlines carried just 4% of the number of international passengers that flew in the corresponding months of 2019, before the pandemic decimated travel,” says AAPA director general Subhas Menon.

“Air cargo remains the single bright spot for the Asian carriers. International air cargo demand for the first two months of the year was 2.2% higher than in 2019. Nevertheless, cargo revenue could not offset the collapse in passenger revenue. With travel markets shuttered by border closures, airlines will require further government support to weather the crisis.”

Subhas adds that airlines are working to digitise the travel process, to help governments and travellers securely manage health credentials.