State of the Industry
The health crisis has triggered unimaginable losses for airlines exceeding US$84 billion
worldwide this year. Asia Pacific airlines will account for more than a third of the losses or
Among all regions, the fall in traffic is steepest in Asia Pacific. The state of international
air travel is particularly grim, with Asia Pacific airlines currently carrying less than 2 million
international passengers per month, compared to 39 million a month in 2019. Seat
capacity on international routes has accordingly fallen by 89% compared to 2019.
On a more positive note, domestic travel is recovering well, with traffic in September
reaching 67% of what it was a year ago while domestic capacity is already at 80%,
benefitting from the timely relaxation of internal travel restrictions in some countries.
The air cargo market is even more resilient, reflecting relatively better demand for the
transport of goods and supplies, and reached 83% of its 2019 level in September 2020,
although the drastic decline in international bellyhold capacity is constraining global
Facing indefinite border closures, airlines are under enormous pressure to minimise
losses and conserve cash as they endeavour to survive the crisis.
Throughout the pandemic, Asian airlines have persevered to preserve basic mobility with
repatriation flights as well as the transportation of essential cargo, food and medical
supplies. The industry is resolute in adopting the ICAO CART guidelines and
implementing objective risk management measures to safeguard the safety and wellbeing
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the Asia Pacific travel and tourism sector,
traditionally the fastest growing market, with most of the top-ten air travel routes in the
world. Travel restrictions and blanket quarantine requirements by governments have
severely inhibited international air travel. Abrupt re-impositions of border closures by
some countries due to the resurgence in COVID-19 cases have further dampened
already weak demand. As a result, international passenger demand has remained at
extremely low levels with little sign of any meaningful recovery as the year wore on.
After taking all possible means to avoid job losses including slashing flights, deferring
aircraft deliveries, suspending all non-essential spending, freezing recruitment, offering
furloughs and early retirement schemes, many Asia Pacific airlines are now announcing
job redundancies. Some 1.8 million direct aviation jobs in the Asia Pacific are potentially
at risk as the pandemic persists and borders remain closed. More broadly, the air
transport sector accounts for 3.1% of Asia Pacific GDP underlining the wider impact of
travel restrictions on communities and livelihoods in the region.
As the first region to be confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, most borders in the
Asia Pacific region have been effectively closed for several months, despite having
achieved a relatively low infection rate. Unfortunately, uncoordinated and patchy travel
restrictions and blanket quarantines are hampering the resumption and revival of air
Efforts by governments to initiate green lanes, fast lanes and travel corridors have not
provided much respite from the decimation of demand in the region, due to onerous
requirements of such schemes. Nonetheless, the launch of the Singapore-Hong Kong
travel bubble in late November, is a positive step in the right direction.
Looking Ahead to 2021
It will take time for COVID-19 to abate and for a successful vaccine to be widely available.
The industry must learn to adapt and reassure travellers that harmonised and sensible
measures based on evidence have been adopted. A realistic path to gradually reopening
borders could start with pairs of cities where the risk level is similarly low and the risk
response equally robust, as recommended by the WHO.
Strong multilateral collaboration among governments to relax travel restrictions and
quarantine requirements based on risk assessment and medical evidence, will be key to
the restart and recovery of the aviation industry. Mutually recognised and harmonised
measures such as comprehensive pre-departure testing protocols, are actively being
pursued as a way forward in reopening borders without onerous travel restrictions.
The Asia Pacific aviation industry continues to partner governments in efforts to
harmonise cross border measures and rebuild confidence in air travel.
At the same time the industry is sharpening its aviation and health safety response
capability further, as well as its focus on established decarbonisation goals, in order to
strengthen its resilience and adaptability for the future.
Commenting on developments, AAPA Director General Mr. Subhas Menon said, “Aviation
is a global connector, playing a key role in social and economic development, that can be
harnessed to spur global recovery from the pandemic. Countries that have largely
contained the virus, will hopefully now turn their attention to opening up their borders and
revitalising travel and tourism. The demand for cross border travel will return once the
conditions are conducive, as has been seen with the rebound in domestic travel once
restrictions were lifted.’’
“Resurgent travel and tourism would reinvigorate the global recovery effort. As one
united aviation community, the industry has reaffirmed our shared mission to strengthen
solidarity and cooperation with governments and other stakeholders, to contain the
spread of COVID-19, revive air travel and secure its future contribution to positive social
and economic development.’’