Signs of recovery in APAC, but questions remain on China reopening

By Charlotte Turner |

According to Airports Council International Asia-Pacific (ACI APAC), the aviation industry showed encouraging signs of recovery in the first quarter of 2022, as capacity increased in many parts of Asia Pacific and the Middle East region. Domestic passenger traffic also made considerable progress.

ACI APAC said that Asia Pacific and the Middle East aviation industry is experiencing ‘green shoots of recovery’, according to the regional association’s first edition of the Airport Industry Outlook.

The quarterly report, developed in partnership with Mott MacDonald – a global engineering, management and development consultancy – provides a snapshot of how airports in the region have performed during the first quarter of 2022 (Jan to March).

This report analyses the impacts of Covid-19 as well as geo-political conflict in the region.

Despite the subdued pandemic environment, ‘airports in the region continued to provide a safe and high service quality for the benefit of their passengers’, said the association.

Stefano Baronci, Director General of ACI Asia-Pacific. 

Stefano Baronci, Director General of ACI Asia-Pacific. 

RENEWED CALL FOR HARMONISATION 

However, travel restrictions ranging from mandatory quarantines in designated facilities to pre-departure testing and on-arrival; suspension of international air travel in some parts of the region; geopolitical conflict and subsequent impacts on macroeconomic factors have proved to be detrimental to the overall growth of aviation.

“Analysis shows that travel restrictions have to a large degree failed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 mainly due to the high infectious nature of the omicron variant and have turned out to be a deterrent for the recovery of aviation, impacting the economy of the region,” said Stefano Baronci, Director General of ACI Asia-Pacific.

“To achieve a truly sustainable recovery from the slump caused by Covid-19, co-operation and the establishment of standards that harmonise the processes for international travel between states are crucial. The global recovery will only be realised with the escalation of vaccination campaigns, development of digital health passes, and supportive policies from governments.”

Boosted by high rates of vaccination (70% or above in the six largest aviation markets), since early 2022, many countries have been easing entry requirements, but parts of Emerging and Developed East Asia (Japan,  Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau, China, Mongolia and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) have kept quarantine requirements in place. In Asia Pacific and ME, currently 20 countries have no significant entry restrictions.

UNCERTAINTY REMAINS OVER CHINA

As the industry is well aware, China plays a key role in the region as most of South East Asian Airports and Australia are largely dependent on Chinese travellers. “The reopening of international air travel to and from China will not only accelerate growth in the region, but also provides a thrust to the industry across the globe,” said the association.

While domestic passenger traffic has made considerable progress, with the easing of restrictions within some countries, international traffic, which is the key revenue driver for airports in terms of passengers’ commercial spend, has remained largely stagnant due to restrictions and geopolitical tensions in and around the region.

“Considering airline seat capacity as a proxy to measure the flow of passengers, as compared to 2019 Q1 data, domestic traffic has made a recovery of 92% of pre-pandemic levels, but international seat capacity was still down 67% during Q1 as travel restrictions, quarantine and testing requirements continued to hamper the growth of air travel,” said ACI Asia Pacific.

The total domestic seat capacity is expected to recover to levels exceeding 2019 by Q2 2022 by approximately +4%. This is driven largely by Emerging East Asia (notably China), which has 15% more departing seats scheduled in 2022 than in 2019.

Middle East domestic capacity remains below 2019 levels. In contrast, total international seat capacity in 2022 is 49% below 2019 levels, with significant variation between sub-regions. South Asia and the Middle East are only down about 15% on 2019 levels, while Emerging East Asia (China, Mongolia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is still down by 81%, and is once again experiencing stringent travel restrictions.

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