Asia Pacific airlines’ March traffic results show impact of COVID-19

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Preliminary traffic figures released by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed air cargo demand plummeted in March as COVID-19 infections spread to many countries across the world. In March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

The number of countries imposing travel restrictions globally more than doubled in March, which led to sharp falls in passenger demand, forcing drastic cutbacks in airline operating schedules and the grounding of thousands of aircraft. Airlines continued to operate dedicated all-freighter services, with some airlines also operating cargo-only passenger aircraft flights, partially compensating for the absence of belly-hold capacity resulting from the mass cancellations of passenger services.

Air cargo demand held up relatively well, but was impacted by supply chain disruptions and weakening business and consumer confidence in light of increasing uncertainty and rising unemployment in major economies across the world. The air cargo sector is playing a very active role in the transportation of much-needed medical equipment and supplies to countries around the world.

Asia Pacific airlines saw international air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) decline by 21.1% year-on-year in March. Offered freight capacity fell by 31.1%, reflecting significant reductions in belly-hold cargo capacity on cancelled passenger services. As a result, the average international freight load factor was 9.1 percentage points higher at 71.9% for the month.

Commenting on the results, Subhas Menon, AAPA director general said: “The sharp escalation in the number of COVID-19 cases beyond Asia, severely impacted travel on international routes in March, with many countries effectively sealing off their borders.”

“Overall, Asian carriers saw a 38% decline in the number of international passengers carried to a combined total of 59 million in the first quarter of the year. During the same period, international air cargo demand fell by 10%, following declines in new export orders.”