With cross border travel effectively grounded, the
Assembly of Presidents of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines
(AAPA) focused on survival and continuity during their virtual
meeting on 13 November.

The Assembly concluded with AAPA,
the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports
Council International Asia-Pacific (ACI Asia-Pacific), jointly
declaring their solidarity and commitment to work with governments
to revive air travel.

The ongoing global COVID19 pandemic 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 US$29 billion.

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.

Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 reg: 9M-MAD. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com Click to enlarge.

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 supply chains.

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

The industry has also been resolute in adopting the ICAO CART
guidelines and implementing objective risk management measures to
safeguard the safety and wellbeing of travellers.

COVID19 has however 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

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 COVID19 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
COVID19 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 COVID19 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

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.

 “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,’’ said AAPA
Director General, Mr. Subhas Menon. “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

Association of Asia Pacific
Airlines (AAPA) – State of the Industry with Subhas Menon, DG

Subhas Menon, Director General of the Association
of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), gives media a virtual media briefing on
the state of the industry via Zoom on 16 November 2020.

Traditionally, this state of the industry briefing
would take place at the AAPA Assembly of Presidents which
last year was supposed to be in Hong Kong and this year in
Fukuoka, Japan. Sadly, the 2019 event was cancelled because of the
increasingly unpredictable and violent protests in Hong Kong at
that time, and this year could not be held due to COVID19. The AAPA
Assembly of Presidents is next supposed to take place in Thailand
– hosted by Thai Airways International –
in November 2021.

[embedded content]

The last AAPA state of the industry media briefing
to take place in person was in 2018 in Jeju, South Korea. You can
watch the video of that media briefing, and others here:

Asia Pacific Aviation Industry Update – AAPA Assembly of
Presidents 2018.

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