Air passenger volume sees 23% to 30% shortfall as COVID-19 cases surge

THE Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) has revised downward its earlier projection of 2021 air passenger traffic to a contraction of between 22.9% and 29.1% year-on-year (yoy) or 18.9 to 20.6 million passengers on the back of the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia and globally.

In its December 2020 edition of Waypoint report, MAVCOM has projected passenger traffic in 2021 to rebound between 94.2% and 100.3% yoy or 51.7 to 53.3 million passengers due to the gradual recovery of the aviation sector following the lifting of the international travel restrictions.

“1Q 2021 saw only 1.7 million passengers utilising air services, a 91.1% yoy decline from 19.1 million passengers in 1Q 2020 which could signal significantly lower passenger traffic numbers for the rest of the year,” MAVCOM pointed out in a statement.

“Given the re-implementation of the movement control order (MCO) and with travel restrictions expected to potentially be enforced throughout 2021, demand for air travel is expected to be impacted.

“MAVCOM’s forecast also took into consideration the expected lower load factor and seat capacity for the year.”

Given that the domestic market contributed significantly to the sector in 2H 2020, MAVCOM expects the domestic market to continue being the key driver in reviving the industry with a view that the travel bubble between the recovery MCO (RMCO) states remain.

“However, this forecast is premised on the prevailing conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic,” projected MAVCOM.

“The aviation industry is expected to continue weathering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as uncertainties loom over the industry’s path to recovery.”

Despite Malaysia having launched the multi-phase National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, negligence and complacency in observing public health measures may further delay the recovery of the aviation industry.

Furthermore, flight cancellations due to international and interstate border closures in 2020 and the resulting refunding issues may impact public willingness to travel by air.

In 2H 2020, the processing of refunds, flight cancellations and flight rescheduling were the top three complaints recorded by MAVCOM.

Elsewhere, Malaysia is studying the implementation of an internationally recognised digital health pass such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass which informs passengers on tests, vaccines as well as other measure they would need to look into prior to travelling.

The pass also provides travellers the ability to share their test and vaccination results in a secure manner. The adoption of the IATA Travel Pass is expected to facilitate post-COVID-19 travel and spur international passenger movement. Coupled with this, air travel bubbles between green zone countries could also boost passenger traffic.

“The vaccine rollout timeline, implementation of stricter or eased public health measures, safe reopening of international borders for air travel as well as changes in air travel demand will continue to influence the sector’s speed of recovery,” commented MAVCOM’S executive chairman Datuk Seri Saripuddin Kasim.

“As we move further into 2021, MAVCOM will closely observe and assess market developments as well as efforts in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as we support the return of the nation’s aviation sector to pre-pandemic levels.” – April 28, 2021

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