By Arjay L. Balinbin

AIRLINES in Asia-Pacific countries, including the Philippines, saw air cargo demand for the month of February hold up “remarkably well” amid the decline in international air passenger demand due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) said.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) said it mounted all-cargo flights from Manila to several domestic and international stations this month.

“Air cargo demand held up remarkably well despite the effects of extended factory closures and lockdowns in China crippling the supply and distribution of manufactured goods nationwide and related international trade flows. These declines were partly offset by higher demand for air shipments of intermediate goods, including pharmaceutical and food supplies, within the region,” AAPA said in a statement released on March 27.

AAPA is a trade association of airlines based in the Asia-Pacific region. Its member airlines include PAL, which is operated by PAL Holdings, Inc.

It said Asia-Pacific airlines carried 17 million international passengers last month, a 44% decline year-on-year.

AAPA Director-General Andrew Herdman said that for the first two months of 2020, the number of international passengers travelling via Asian airlines “fell by 21% to 50 million.”

“As measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK), demand fell by 34.8%, alongside a 20.6% drop in available seat capacity. As a result, the average international passenger load factor tumbled by 14.4 percentage points to 66.6% for the month [of February],” AAPA said.

Also for the month of February, airlines in the region reported a 3% year-on-year fall in international air cargo demand in freight ton kilometers (FTK) terms.

“Offered freight capacity fell by a sharp 13.5%, with belly-hold capacity declining in tandem with the progressive cuts in the number of passenger flights over the course of the month. As a result, the average international freight load factor increased by 6.5 percentage points to 60.3% for the month,” AAPA said.

Mr. Herdman said the demand for air cargo “remains relatively unaffected.”

He noted that there are efforts being carried out to ensure the continuous, safe and efficient shipments of “critical supplies.”

“Asian airlines account for over one third of global air cargo flows, and operate large numbers of dedicated freighter aircraft. The sharp fall in passenger services has removed significant belly-cargo capacity from the market place. A number of airlines are now operating supplementary cargo services using passenger aircraft to meet the demand,” he said.

PAL said on Sunday that it mounted twelve roundtrip all-cargo flights from March 19 to March 29.

The flag carrier said it was flying essential supplies, which include medicines and medical equipment from Manila to Visayas and Mindanao regions and from international stations to Manila.

“The government’s Inter-Agency Task Force has made it clear that all-cargo flights are allowed to operate within the duration of the community quarantine period,” PAL noted.