Asia Pacific airlines continued to report a downtrend in cargo volumes at the start of 2023 as global economic conditions remained unfavourable for trade.
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 a "significant" 20.5% year-on-year.
"Subdued global economic conditions continued to hold back export markets in January, leading to a significant 20.5% year-on-year decline in international air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK)," AAPA said.
Aside from cargo volumes, offered freight capacity also dropped 7.5% in January as the international freight load factor fell by 9.7 percentage points to an average of 59.2% for the month.
"Cargo volumes came under pressure due to multiple headwinds," said Subhas Menon, AAPA director-general.
"Higher inflation levels across various economies and the persistently strong US Dollar have added to the price pressures for imported commodities and merchandise in local currency terms," he added.
In contrast, Asia Pacific airlines saw "steady growth" in international passenger traffic on the back of strong travel demand with the easing of border restrictions, notably in North Asia.
Overall, the region's airlines carried a combined 17.2 million international passengers in January, more than seven times the volumes recorded in the same month last year, when demand was still dampened by travel restrictions across the region.
AAPA said traffic as measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) jumped 466.9%, underpinned by robust regional travel demand.
Looking ahead, Menon warned of persisting global economic uncertainty that could continue to dampen the full recovery of the aviation sector.
"Notwithstanding the challenges brought on by the global economic uncertainty, growth prospects for passenger markets look positive for the year ahead. The desire to travel remains strong, with the latest forward booking trends pointing to sustained high demand," he said.
"Nevertheless, cost pressures represent a key challenge to airline financial performance, driven by the elevated fuel prices and inflationary pressures on operating expenditure, including labour and maintenance."
"Overall, Asia Pacific airlines remain vigilant in striving for cost efficiencies whilst restoring flights in the COVID-19 recovery period," the AAPA chief said.