Preliminary traffic figures for the full calendar year 2023 released by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed robust growth in international passenger demand, underpinned by strong appetite for travel following the removal of the region’s remaining pandemic-related travel restrictions.

For the year, the region’s airlines recorded a 161 per cent increase in the number of international passengers carried to a combined total of 278.5 million.

In revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) terms, demand rose by 131 per cent, reflecting strength on short haul markets, says the AAPA.

The increase in demand was supported by a 106.2 per cent expansion in available seat capacity for the year, as airlines restored flights within the region and across regions.

The international passenger load factor returned to pre-pandemic levels with an average of 80.9 per cent in 2023, an 8.7 percentage point increase compared to 2022.

Nevertheless, passenger numbers averaged 72 per cent of pre-pandemic 2019 levels, although this was up significantly from 28 per cent in 2022.

“International passenger traffic carried by Asian airlines grew solidly by 161% in 2023. Passenger numbers averaged 72% of pre-pandemic 2019 levels, up significantly from 28% in 2022,” commented AAPA director general, Subhas Menon.

He continued: “Overall, 2023 was a good year for the region’s carriers. Passenger demand grew unabated, while air cargo markets ended the year on a high note. The gradual restoration of flight frequencies and city-pair connections over the course of the year provided more options for travelers, further stimulating demand. However, as operations were progressively restored, airlines faced capacity constraints in addition to increased cost pressures driven by volatile fuel prices, a strong US Dollar and inflationary impacts on operations.”

Looking ahead, the AAPA chief noted that “2024 promises to be another good year for Asian airlines”.

International passenger traffic is poised to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months, buoyed by the return of tourism and resilient expansion of the region’s economies. However, there remain some uncertainties, including the potential erosion in business and consumer sentiment amid rising geopolitical risks. Against this background, the region’s airlines remain vigilant to market influences while investing for future growth,” said Menon.

The AAPA says it speaks with a common voice on behalf of Asia-Pacific airlines 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, All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, and Vietnam Airlines.