Air passenger traffic plunges 78%

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    Air traffic volume plunged 78 percent in 2020 due to the travel restrictions on both local and international trips due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

    Data from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) showed air passenger traffic stood at 13.1 million from January to December 2020, plunging from 60 million passengers recorded in 2019.

    Of last year’s total air traffic volume, domestic passengers accounted for 6.9 million and international passengers, 6.2 million, which went down by 77 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

    The government placed the country under the enhanced community quarantine in March last year, temporarily halting airline operations for more than two months, then gradually restarting operations in June with strict health protocols and limited destinations.

    Cebu Pacific (CEB) and its unit Cebgo still lead the domestic market, having flown 3.5 million passengers last year, 77 percent down from the previous year’s 14.9 million passengers.

    Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and PAL Express flew 1.8 million passengers, lower by 79 percent from 8.6 million in 2019.

    AirAsia Philippines’ number of passengers fell by 74 percent to 1.4 million last year, from 5.3 million passengers served in 2019.

    For international traffic, CAB data showed that of the 6.2 million passengers recorded last year, 3.1 million flew via the domestic carriers and 3.1 million, the international carriers, which tumbled by 81 percent and 78 percent, respectively.

    PAL and PAL Express remained the leading airlines in this market with 1.8 million passengers carried during the period, down by 77 percent from 7.7 million passengers served in 2019.

    CEB carried 906,655 during the period and AirAsia, 381,018 passengers.

    The local airline industry is expected to lose another P60 billion this year on top of last year’s estimated losses of P60 billion, according to the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP).

    Robert Lim, ACAP executive director, earlier said the operating capacity of the Philippine airline sector of just 16 percent of its pre-COVID levels is among the lowest, if not the lowest, in Asean.

    According to Lim, the three carriers collectively incurred losses of P47 billion as of September 2020 and could have ended last year with P60 billion in the red.

    Meanwhile, the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) reported last December airlines in the Philippines have not benefitted from the same rate of domestic demand recovery as airlines elsewhere in the region.

    “Although there are some encouraging signs emerging in December 2020, a dramatic rebound will be elusive while domestic travel restrictions remain in place,” CAPA had said.

    The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) new analysis showed the airline industry will remain cash negative throughout 2021, less optimistic than a November 2020 report which indicated airlines would turn cash positive in the fourth quarter of 2021.

    At the industry level, airlines are now not expected to be cash positive until 2022.

    “Estimates for cash burn in 2021 have ballooned to the $75 billion to $95 billion range from a previously anticipated $48 billion,” IATA said.