Kuala Lumpur [Malaysia], Mar 26 : International air passenger demand plunged in February with deepening public anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic and abrupt imposition of travel restrictions across the world causing widespread disruptions to airline operations, preliminary traffic figures released on Thursday by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed.
In aggregate, the region's airlines experienced a 43.9 per cent year-on-year fall in the number of international passengers carried to a combined 17 million in February. As measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), demand fell by 34.8 per cent, alongside a 20.6 per cent drop in available seat capacity.
As a result, the average international passenger load factor tumbled by 14.4 percentage points to 66.6 per cent for the month.
Meanwhile, air cargo demand held up remarkably well despite the effects of extended factory closures and lockdowns in China crippling the supply and distribution of manufactured goods nationwide and related international trade flows.
These declines were partly offset by higher demand for air shipments of intermediate goods, including pharmaceutical and food supplies, within the region. Overall, Asia Pacific airlines registered a 3 per cent year-on-year decline in international air cargo demand in freight tonne kilometres (FTK) terms in February.
Comparatively, offered freight capacity fell by a sharp 13.5 per cent with belly-hold capacity declining in tandem with the progressive cuts in the number of passenger flights over the course of the month. As a result, the average international freight load factor increased by 6.5 percentage points to 60.3 per cent for the month.
"Asian airlines saw passenger demand for international air travel demand plunge in February as a result of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic," said AAPA Director General Andrew Herdman. "Overall, for the first two months of the year, the number of international passengers travelling on Asian airlines fell by 21 per cent to 50 million passengers."
Herdman said the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges, both operational and financial, to the airline industry and the wider travel and tourism sector worldwide. "While some governments have moved quickly to provide measures of financial support, much more needs to be done to reduce the risks of permanent damage to critical sectors of the economy."
( With inputs from ANI )