Aviation preparation in Asia for post-covid opening

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(as of Aug 15, 2021)

The aviation industry has seen a considerable improvement since mid-2021, particularly in the domestic market. The many ups and downs since the beginning of the pandemic, which saw restrictions imposed and then lifted, only to be imposed again, have made people’s lives, professional schedules and especially vacations unpredictable. Many countries, such as the United States, are seeing domestic aviation return to promising levels. This upturn in domestic air travel is also seen around Europe in general, especially between member countries of the European Union. The Asiatic region in general has been seeing this positive movement happen more gradually, but with good signs of recovery. All of these is a result of several months of mass vaccination being implemented by several countries. It makes decisions to relieve the restrictive measures less complicated, even though the pandemic is far from over.

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Figure 1- Aviation in Europe

Still 30% below the number before the pandemic but with good signs of recovery since June 2021.

(https://www.eurocontrol.int/sites/default/files/2021-08/covid19-eurocontrol-comprehensive-air-traffic-assessment-12082021.pdf)

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Figure 2 – Aviation in the United States of America

Domestic aviation in the US 17% lower than before the pandemic, but with good signs of recovery, but the same trend is not seen in international flights.

(https://www.eurocontrol.int/sites/default/files/2021-08/covid19-eurocontrol-comprehensive-air-traffic-assessment-12082021.pdf)

This now allows for a more detailed explanation on how some airlines in Asia are preparing to allow people to travel with more freedom and security. Asia was one of the regions in the world that imposed the most restrictions due to the pandemic and consequently is the most affected when it comes to aviation. Although the global outlook foresees a slight positive trend in aviation, the Asian market follows this trend more conservatively. In fact, several Asian countries and airlines have been planning for the resumption of aviation but these plans will certainly be contingent on the rate of vaccination and the gradual relief of restrictions. However, with the low rate of vaccination in some of these Asian countries, the resumption of aviation in these countries are expected to take a longer time. 

Singapore

Since the start of the second half of 2021, Singapore has been analysing how it could start to ease the restrictions towards the end of the year. This requires care and having the majority of its population vaccinated. The government’s goal is to have about 80% of the people fully vaccinated, or at least 70% as long as the vaccine continues to be effective against the virus. This will initially make domestic flights more readily available but international flights may still take some time.

Singapore Airlines, which is one of Asia’s major airlines, has been slowly retaking routes including international routes connecting the United States with other Asian countries. Other measures being undertaken are the recovery of planes that have been grounded for many months so that they can return to the air soon to meet the new aviation demand. The huge Airbus A380 is one of the planes being recovered.

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/moving-from-covid-19-pandemic-to-endemic

https://www.aviacionline.com/2021/08/singapore-airlines-rescues-another-airbus-a380-from-the-desert/

China

Initially, China was showing a positive trend in terms of domestic flights but has recently been hit again by a new wave of lockdown measures putting recovery plans on hold. There was some optimism for the summer of 2021, but this optimism was eventually dampened by the new wave of lockdowns and it has certainly impacted all of China’s main airlines. It puts the Chinese aviation industry in its most tense moment since the beginning of the pandemic. The new outbreak also directly affected the Chinese domestic market.

The graph below shows how China had been on a stable domestic performance and between late July and early August 2021 start to trend negatively. These numbers are also expected to deteriorate further.

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Figure 3 – Aviation in China compared to few other countries

(https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-04/china-s-air-travel-recovery-takes-a-great-leap-backward)

https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202108/1230665.shtml

Thailand

At the moment, Thailand’s aviation industry is at the height of its decline. Tourism in Thailand had never recovered as the country’s restrictions were never assessed by the Thai government. A significant recovery is not yet expected for the year 2021, which makes things more complicated. The situation is so dire that the airlines are suspending flights and Thai AirAsia announced a possible temporary suspension of operations in August.

https://www.aviationnepal.com/covid-made-the-worst-situation-in-thailand-aviation/

Malaysia

Malaysia has started to allow some local tourism to the less affected areas, as well as some gradual relief of restrictions, despite still having a relatively low vaccinated population. Malaysia will also give fully vaccinated people greater freedom of movement and the ability to purchase flights.

With that, Malaysian Airlines started to offer domestic flights for fully vaccinated people even if the rates were lower than usual.

Philippines

The Philippines government still imposes non-essential movement restrictions for its citizens.

In response, Philippines Airlines has been adapting and even cancelling/suspending several international and domestic flights due to the different restrictions imposed locally and by other countries.

https://flyphilippineairlines.com/news

Indonesia

The aviation industry in Indonesia continues to suffer due to the pandemic and a recovery is still distant. This puts the entire industry to the test with having to find financial conditions in order to honour their commitments.

Despite all these problems, the Super Air Jet, which is a new low-cost airline was launched in Indonesia and started operating domestic flights with a little help from Lion Air.

https://en.vietnamplus.vn/indonesias-aviation-industry-struggles-as-the-pandemic-continues/206269.vnp

South Korea

South Korea is also subjected to many restrictions and the demand for passenger flights remains very low.

Despite that, Korean Air, driven exclusively by the cargo business still produced good financial results.

http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20210813000710

Final considerations

The new Delta variant has caused all Asian countries in general to take a few steps back with varying degrees. However, all of them have stopped lifting restrictions to wait and see how the new cases of the contagion will be experienced worldwide, and how the currently available vaccines will be effective against this new variant. As assessed, Asia in particular has placed even stricter restrictions than many other countries around the world and now in turn is also much more reluctant to ease restrictions. This is similar in some extent to the United States and Europe who were reluctant to ease restrictions. Also, mass vaccinations take place more slowly in Asia, either because of the availability of vaccines, or because of the people’s lack of desire to get vaccinated.

With the global trend suggesting that there should be tighter travel restrictions once the summer in the northern hemisphere is over, this means that we could see a new wave of restrictions returning until the global vaccinated population reaches an acceptable limit. Another point of contention globally, is the lack of consensus between the different restrictions imposed by each government, with some having lesser restrictions and others having much more severe restrictions. This makes a global assessment much more complicated.

Unfortunately, all these mean that we are at a stage where the opening of borders and the resumption of aviation are still somewhat in the distance. Most of the analyses by different specialists in the field show that the current situation indicates that something concrete will only happen at the beginning of 2022. It remains to be seen whether all airlines can survive another 4, 5 or at least 6 months in the current situation with few passengers and many restrictions. We hope that the world of aviation will soon be fully active again and that we will be able to get back to planning professional and personal travel.

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