Air travel plunges 63% in H1: CAB

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    11.3M passengers. While flights have resumed in June, they are limited to essential travel. (PAL Photo)

    Air passenger traffic volume in the country plunged by 63 percent in January to June this year, as commercial operations were halted since March to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

    Data from the Civil Aeronautics Board showed the country’s passenger volume stood at 11.3 million in the first semester, compared with 30.5 million passengers flown in the same period last year.

    The domestic market recorded 5.99 million passengers, 61 percent down from 15.2 million passengers flown a year ago.

    International traffic stood at 5.3 million, 65 percent lower than last year’s 15.3 million passengers. Of the total, 2.8 million passengers flew via the domestic carriers and 2.5 million through the foreign carriers.

    The suspension of commercial flights from March up to June pulled down the passenger volume. While operations resumed in June, flights are limited to essential travel as leisure flights remain suspended.

    Cebu Pacific (CEB), with its unit Cebgo, is still the leading domestic carrier having flown 3.9 million passengers in the six-month period, down 63 percent from last year’s 10.6 million passengers. Of the total, 3 million passengers took domestic flights and 811,902 for international flights.

    Flag carrier Philippines Airlines (PAL), with its unit PAL Express, still leads in the international market with 3.1 million passengers served six months into the year, of which 1.5 million flew international and 1.6 million took domestic flights.

    Low-cost carrier Philippine AirAsia flew 1.6 million passengers in the first half of the year, of which 1.22 million passengers took domestic flights and 370,484 international flights.

    Meanwhile, travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 has resulted in massive refund requests to airlines.

    PAL has refunded P12.7 billion or 80 percent of the more than P15.9 billion up for refund, while CEB settled P2.4 billion or 50 percent of its refund requests.

    At present, PAL has restored nearly 15 percent of its regular domestic and global network, and intends to ramp up its flights and routes in line with an expected easing of travel quarantine restrictions.

    CEB is only able to operate 10 percent of its pre-pandemic network as the tourism and aviation industries have been among the worst hit by COVID-19.

    According to a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines in Asia Pacific including the Philippines are expected to post the largest absolute losses in 2020, as passenger demand significantly declined due to international border closures to prevent the spread of the virus.

    IATA said in the global air transport industry, airlines are expected to lose $84.3 billion in 2020, of which losses in Asia Pacific are projected to reach $29 billion this year, $23.4 billion in North America, $21.5 billion in Europe, $4.8 billion in the Middle East and $4 billion losses in Latin America.

    All regions will post losses in 2020 with capacity cuts lagging about 10 to 15 percentage points or more behind the over 50 percent fall in demand.

    “Asia Pacific was the first region to feel the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis. It is expected to post the largest absolute losses in 2020,” IATA said.

    The biggest driver of industry losses is the evaporating passenger demand as international borders closed, it added. At the low point in April, global air travel was roughly 95 percent below 2019 levels.