IATA calls for further easing of border measures in Asia Pacific

By Faye Bartle |

International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh.

International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged Asia Pacific states to continue to ease border measures to help accelerate the region’s recovery from Covid-19.

IATA data shows that international passenger demand in Asia Pacific for March 2022 reached 17% of pre-Covid levels, after having hovered at below 10% for most of the last two years.

The Association’s Director General Willie Walsh pointed out that this is “far below the global trend where markets have recovered to 60% of pre-crisis levels”.

“Asia Pacific is playing catch-up on restarting travel after Covid-19, but there is growing momentum with governments lifting many travel restrictions,” said Walsh in his keynote address at the Changi Aviation Summit, which took place at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, from 17-18 May 2022.

“The demand for people to travel is clear,” he added. “As soon as measures are relaxed there is an immediate positive reaction from travellers. So it is critical that all stakeholders, including governments, are well-prepared for the restart. We cannot delay. Jobs are at stake and people want to travel.”


Walsh highlighted three main ways that governments in the region could help to further ease border measures.

Firstly, he suggests removing all restrictions for vaccinated travellers.

Next, he recommended removing quarantine and Covid-19 testing for unvaccinated travellers in destinations where there are high levels of population immunity. “The science supports these initiatives,” he said.

Tourists travelling through Incheon International Airport

Tourists travelling through Incheon International Airport.

Lastly, he proposed lifting the mask mandate for air travel when it is no longer required in other indoor environments and public transport.

“Supporting and more importantly accelerating the recovery will need a whole-of-industry and government approach,” said Walsh. “Airlines are bringing back the flights. Airports need to be able to handle the demand. And governments need to be able to process security clearances and other documentation for key personnel efficiently.”

In the wider context, the latest IATA passenger data points to a continuing recovery for international air travel, with total traffic in March 2022* up 76.0% compared to March 2021 reflecting the ‘surge in pent-up demand finally being realised’.

International Air Transport Association passenger data for March 2022

International Air Transport Association passenger data for March 2022. Source: IATA.

Drilling down on regional dynamics, the report identified that Asia Pacific airlines experienced a 197.1% rise in traffic in March 2022 compared to March 2021, up over the 146.5% gain registered in February 2022 versus February 2021.

It also noted that while ‘China and Japan remain restrictive to foreign visitors, other countries are becoming more relaxed’, including South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Thailand.

Capacity rose 70.7% and the load factor was up 24.1 percentage points to 56.6%, the lowest among regions.

Looking at domestic passenger markets, China’s domestic traffic was down 59.1% in March 2022 compared to March 2021 – a significant reversal compared to the 32.8% year-over-year growth recorded in February.

‘This was due to the ‘lockdowns and travel restrictions following the spread of Omicron in the country,’ said the report.

*Measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs.

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