Preliminary March 2023 traffic figures released this week by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed international passenger demand remained solid, driven by the robust recovery in leisure and business travel in Asia and globally.

The easing of travel restrictions, coupled with strong travel appetite, led to a 494.6 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of international passengers carried which added up to 19.8 million altogether in March.

As a percentage of pre-pandemic 2019 levels, demand averaged 61 per cent.

Revenue Passenger Kilometres (RPK) for the month rose by 354.6 per cent year-on-year, underscoring the relative strength of regional travel markets.

A comparatively slower 190.9 per cent expansion in available seat capacity led to a 29.7 percentage point jump in the international passenger load factor to 82.5 per cent for the month, which was higher than pre-pandemic levels.

This, too, is one of the reasons why airfares remain high.

Commenting on the results, Subhas Menon, AAPA Director General said: “Asia Pacific airlines carried a combined total of 54 million international passengers in the first quarter of 2023, well over six times the 8 million passengers recorded in the same period last year. Demand continues to be robust as remaining travel restrictions are lifted across the region.”

“However, air cargo markets declined by 13.1% during the same period, reflecting weakness in consumer demand amidst general inflationary pressures and rising economic uncertainty.”

Looking ahead, Menon said: “Despite a more subdued global economic outlook, international passenger markets remain buoyant, as the rebuilding of travel confidence and return to face-to-face business meetings, continue apace.”

The AAPA chief added: “Asia Pacific carriers expect to see strong revenue growth this year even though increasing cost pressures, led by persistently high fuel prices, would erode the earnings margins. Asia Pacific carriers continue to focus on cost efficiencies whilst restoring flights to destinations in a bid to improve profitability.”

The primary purpose of AAPA is to serve as a common forum for the articulation of views on matters and issues of common interest to the Asia Pacific aviation industry; to foster close cooperation with other relevant stakeholders; and to encourage the successful evolution of the travel and tourism industry as a key contributor to economic, social and cultural development.

AAPA speaks with a common voice on behalf of Asia Pacific air carriers and puts forward Asian perspectives when dealing with governments, aircraft manufacturers, airport authorities and other organisations on industry issues.

Its members include all major Asia-Pacific airlines, including Air India, ANA, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.