APAC passenger traffic to remain below pre-COVID levels next year

Aviation Updates Philippines – Airline passenger traffic in key Asia-Pacific (APAC) markets, including the Philippines, is likely to remain well below 2019 levels in 2021 despite a recovery, according to American credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings.

Fitch Ratings said that the Philippines and Indonesia, where the risk of the spread of COVID-19 remains high, will see average revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) at 35 percent of the baseline in 2020 and 60 percent in 2021. 

Airlines in Malaysia and Thailand are also expected to see similar RPK levels due to weak international traffic volume despite their countries' success in controlling the spread of COVID-19. 

Singapore Airlines could see the sharpest RPK fall in 2020 at 70 percent due to its total dependence on international routes, while Vietnamese carriers are expected to recover faster than those in other Southeast Asian markets due to the low incidence of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam.

For Australia, Fitch Ratings said that it expects 2020 RPKs to be at around 30 percent of 2019 levels. It also said that it does not expect a "meaningful recovery" to take place in this market until mid-2021. This is because the governments of the country's three most populous states - where the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane are located - said that borders may only reopen towards the end of 2020. RPK levels in 2021 are expected to increase to around 60 percent of 2019 levels and to around 85 percent in 2022. Fitch Ratings does not expect airline capacity to return to pre-pandemic levels until the end of next year or early 2022.

Average RPKs for Indian airlines, meanwhile, are expected to decline by 65 percent in 2020, while 2021 levels are expected to be below 40 percent of the 2019 level.

In the entire APAC region, only China is expected to see a rapid recovery in air passenger traffic. The country may see rising RPK levels by October of 2020 due to its success in containing the spread of COVID-19. Average RPKs may also return to 2019 levels by 2021 for as long as China is able to successfully avoid another wave of the pandemic.

Fitch Ratings said that its forecasts are based on the assumption that a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment will not become widely available in 2021, but that progress is made in controlling the pandemic.

"The pace of the recovery will hinge on each market's relative success in bringing the coronavirus pandemic under control, helping to improve passenger confidence and reduce the risk of further travel restrictions, as well as its share of international traffic, which we expect to stay weaker than domestic volume," Fitch Ratings said.

"Airline passenger volume could improve faster than we forecast if an effective vaccine is distributed sooner than we believe or if there is more success in containing the pandemic. However, we foresee flat demand in 2021 that is well below the 2019 base should there be limited progress on this measure," it added.

Photo by Andrew Thomas