The Asia Pacific region has just reported its best month for international air cargo since December 2019.
Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) director general Subhas Menon said the demand in March has been driven thanks to rising business confidence, e-commerce and congestion at sea ports.
As a result, he added 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, making it 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 freight figures were in stark contrast to international passenger numbers which continue to suffer thanks to a resurgence of Covid-19 in certain countries like India and an uneven roll out of vaccination programmes.
Menon said the research shows only 1.1 million international passengers flew on the region’s carriers in March – just 13.2 per cent of volumes seen in March 2020 when numbers were already in freefall thanks to the outbreak.
As a result, available seat capacity averaged 27 per cent of the previous year’s level while the international passenger load factor fell by 29.4 percentage points to average 23.8 per cent for the month.
Menon said: “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 12 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.”
Despite the ongoing issues, Menon said there were reasons to be cheerful as international travel increases across the region.
He added: “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.
“It is apparent that we will need to learn to live with Covid-19. As such, it is imperative that governments across the world embrace harmonised risk-based measures that safely reopen air travel.
“This includes digitalisation of travel health certificates, as well as the implementation of contactless and seamless travel measures in accordance with ICAO and WHO guidelines, to support travel recovery.
“The association remains committed in working closely with governments to aid the resumption of air travel in a smart, safe and sustainable way.”