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International airline passenger numbers rising but cargo struggles


Preliminary February 2023 traffic figures released today by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed that international passenger markets continued to expand at a robust pace, buoyed by the strong appetite for travel, in tandem with the Lunar New Year holiday season.

Overall, 16.9 million international passengers were carried by Asia Pacific airlines in February, representing a 645.3% jump from the 2.3 million that flew in the same month last year, when the region’s international markets were still suppressed by strict travel measures.

In revenue passenger kilometre (RPK) terms, demand grew by 481.7% year-on-year, markedly outpacing the 205.5% expansion in available seat capacity.

As a result, the average international passenger load factor rose by 38.6 percentage points to 81.3% for the month, achieving levels recorded in pre-pandemic 2019.

Concerns over the broader economic climate, weakness in consumer and business sentiment, continued to affect air cargo markets in February. For the region’s carriers, international air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK), fell by 9.8% for the month.

AAPA director general, Subhas Menon, noted: “The first two months of the year saw continued strong recovery in international travel markets, with the number of passengers carried by the region’s carriers increasing more than seven-fold to 34 million, bringing overall demand to 54.3% of the corresponding period in pre-pandemic 2019.

“On the other hand, air cargo markets continued to weaken amid challenging circumstances. Inflationary pressures, and worsening economic conditions, weighed down on spending affecting demand for air shipments. The first two months of the year saw a 15.5% fall in air cargo demand for Asian carriers.”

Looking ahead, Menon said: “The demand outlook for international travel is positive, but expected to moderate in the coming months compared with the larger traffic volumes in the later months of last year as more borders reopened over the course of 2022.

“Nevertheless, strong travel demand will continue to underpin recovery in passenger traffic, as pre-pandemic flight frequencies and city links are gradually restored in 2023.

“Asian airlines are proactively taking steps to reduce the strain on operations where possible. This includes intensifying recruitment of staff, returning stored aircraft to service and continued investments in digitalising the travel process.”

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