Asia Pacific airlines ended last year on a downtrend for air cargo as the sector faced multiple challenges throughout 2022.
The end of the year marked the 10th straight month that airlines in the region have seen cargo decline since March 2022.
The Kuala Lumpur-based Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) said Asia Pacific airlines saw international air cargo demand — measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) — drop by 8.2% following a robust 20.3% annual increase in 2021.
This follows a 19.2% year-on-year decline in November — usually a peak season month ahead of the holidays.
"International air cargo demand weakened in 2022 and continued to face multiple challenges," AAPA said.
It added that the steep increase in inflation, a strong US dollar and the tightening of monetary policy across economies led to a slowdown in global economic activity.
AAPA further noted that pandemic-related lockdowns in China and the Russia-Ukraine war also aggravated prevailing supply chain disruptions.
For the period, offered freight capacity expanded by 2.2%, as robust recovery in commercial passenger operations led to a gradual increase in available bellyhold space.
As a result, the international freight load factor declined by 7.5 percentage points to average 66.6% for the year.
"Reflecting falling export orders alongside worsening business and consumer sentiment, international air cargo markets weakened after a relatively steady start to the year," said Subhas Menon, AAPA director-general, adding that demand fell by a steep 20.7% year-on-year in December — bringing the decline for the full year 2022 to 8.2%.
2023 prospects "broadly positive"
Looking ahead, the AAPA chief signalled optimism for 2023 as the operating environment continues to improve following the easing of multiple Covid-19 restrictions in the region.
"The outlook for 2023 is broadly positive, notably for passenger travel," Menon said, adding that the recovery of passenger demand is expected to progress further in the coming months, driven by a strong appetite for travel.
"The recent easing of travel restrictions in China will further fuel demand, although the re-imposition of testing requirements for inbound travellers by some governments may somewhat slow down recovery in the shorter term," he added.
Menon noted that Asian airlines continue to work closely with regulators, airports, and other stakeholders to further ramp-up aviation recovery.