Overall rising business confidence and e-commerce growth continue to fuel air cargo demand, with congestion at shipping ports spurring a shift to air, according to the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA).
Despite the ongoing dire passenger numbers due to ongoing border restrictions, international air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK), grew by 16.1 per cent year-on-year in the month of March. Last month was the best performing month since December 2019.
Offered freight capacity rose by a comparatively slower 12.7 per cent year-on-year, leading to a 2.2 percentage point increase in the average international freight load factor to 74.3 per cent for the month.
The depressed passenger numbers have been further exacerbated by the “uneven progress in vaccination rollouts and rapid resurgence in COVID-19 transmissions in some countries, particularly India,” AAPA notes.
Reflecting the dire operating conditions, only 1.1 million international passengers flew on the region’s carriers in March, equivalent to a mere 13.2 per cent of passenger volumes in the same month last year when travel was already in sharp decline.
Available seat capacity averaged 27 per cent of the previous year’s volumes, as the majority of the region’s commercial passenger fleets remained grounded. The international passenger load factor fell by 29.4 percentage points to an average 23.8 per cent for the month.
Commenting on the results, Subhas Menon, AAPA director general says: “March marks a full year since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Asian airlines have been faced with major challenges over the past twelve months and have evolved their strategies to stay afloat, by adapting to changing demand patterns and diversifying their revenue base, whilst undertaking significant cost-cutting measures. Much needed government support has also helped the industry survive.”
Menon adds: “The recent commencement of travel between Australia and New Zealand is certainly a welcome step. In addition, quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Hong Kong, announced for end May, with talks of more travel bubbles in the pipeline, provide hope for a gradual restart of international air travel this year.”