Diverse vaccination rate, closed borders impede aviation recovery

The recovery will be slow due to inequity in the distribution and deployment of vaccines


A SLOW vaccine rollout and the dim prospect of borders reopening have diminished the hope of a quick recovery for the aviation sector in the Asia Pacific.

Association of Asia Pacific Airlines DG Subhas Menon said consumer sentiments have been on the rise following the deployment of vaccines that has largely started a few months ago.

However, he said the recovery will be slow mainly due to inequity in the distribution and deployment of vaccines.

“A few countries have moved very fast with respect to vaccines, but the majority of the countries in the world are actually lagging,” Menon said at the Airbus Malaysia Connect webinar yesterday.

In the Asia Pacific, he said Singapore is racing ahead with almost a third of its population already receiving both of the required injections, but the rest of the region including major markets, such as China and India, are falling behind.

According to Our World in Data, as of April 5, 2021, Singapore was in a leading position with Covid-19 vaccination doses per 100 people at a rate of 25.95, compared to China at 9.72, Macao (8.62), the world (8.53), Hong Kong (7.42) and Asia (6.32).

The same rate of vaccination rollout in India stood at 5.73, Indonesia (4.62), Australia (3.31), Malaysia (2.43), South Korea (1.93), New Zealand (1.42), Japan (0.87), the Philippines (0.67) and Thailand (0.26), among others.

At the rate Asia is going, the immunisation in the region is forecasted to be slow until 2024.

Besides that, Menon said governments are working on their policies, resulting in a “quagmire of travel restrictions” that travellers are confronted with, while the progress of establishing travel bubbles faces challenges.

“The only way to get through this is to coordinate and clarify these restrictions bilaterally through travel bubbles but travel bubbles take a long time to implement.

“The problem is many cooks spoil the broth but definitely two heads are better than one,” Menon said.

For airlines, he said cargo is doing well but it is not going to change the profitability picture of the companies.

Airbus Asia Pacific president Anand Stanley said the recovery will be slow and Airbus foresees a global recovery only by 2023. He said the Asia Pacific was the first region to be impacted by the pandemic and many of the countries have controlled the virus quite well.

However, he said the region is still far behind in terms of air traffic and return to air travel, adding that the governments have implemented one of the toughest restrictions and quarantine measures in the world.

He said countries in the region need robust testing protocols and procedures in airports, for instance, and most importantly vaccination programmes to contribute to the recovery.

“But what is really necessary will be the opening of borders and removal of quarantine measures,” Anand said.

For Malaysia, he said the domestic market will start to recover quickly if restrictions between states are reduced.

He also said Malaysia is one of the key countries to contribute to the recovery of international traffic attributable to the country’s strategic geographical location.

Endau Analytics founder Shukor Yusof said looking at the overall ecosystem of aviation in Malaysia including the maintenance, repair and overhaul, certain components of the aviation industry would need more attention than others.

“It is important to keep the skilled labour in the aviation industry occupied and paid at present to support the road to recovery,” he said.

Separately, during the opening of the Airbus Malaysia Connect webinar, Senior Minister (Economic Cluster) cum International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said Malaysia will be looking at the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones as one of the focus areas moving forward.

He said the country wants to develop an ecosystem that is not limited to UAVs and drones but also vertical or short take-off and landing, and autonomous flying objects for the local and export markets.