Asia Pacific airlines continued to report a downtrend in air cargo volumes for February as concerns over the broader economic climate and weakness in consumer and business sentiment continued to affect air cargo markets.
Preliminary February 2023 traffic figures released by the Kuala Lumpur-based Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed international air cargo demand — measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) — fell 9.8% for the month.
"Air cargo markets continued to weaken amid challenging circumstances," said Subhas Menon, AAPA director-general.
"Inflationary pressures, and worsening economic conditions, weighed down on spending affecting demand for air shipments," he added.
Menon noted that the first two months of 2023 saw a 15.5% fall in air cargo demand for Asian carriers.
For the month, Asia Pacific airlines saw offered freight capacity edged 0.8% higher, leading to a 7.2 percentage point decline in the average international freight load factor to 61.7% for the month.
In contrast, Asian carriers continued to expand at a robust pace, buoyed by the strong appetite for travel in tandem with the Lunar New Year holiday season.
For February, the airlines recorded 16.9 million international passengers, representing a 645.3% jump from the 2.3 million that flew in the same month last year, when the region's international markets were still suppressed by strict Covid-19 measures.
"The first two months of the year saw a continued strong recovery in international travel markets, with the number of passengers carried by the region’s carriers increasing more than seven-fold to 34 million, bringing overall demand to 54.3% of the corresponding period in pre-pandemic 2019," Menon said.
Looking ahead, the AAPA chief expects international travel to be positive but expected to moderate in the coming months compared with the larger traffic volumes in the later months of last year as more borders reopened over the course of 2023.
Menon noted that Asian airlines are "proactively taking steps" to reduce the strain on operations where possible — including intensifying the recruitment of staff, returning stored aircraft to service and continued investments in digitalising the travel process.
"The airlines are working closely with industry stakeholders with the aim of enhancing passenger experience while ensuring safe and secure travel in the recovery period," he added.