Asia was at the forefront of the pandemic, but the continent is far from out of the woods. AirAsia’s senior manager of network planning, Andreu Parés Prat, recently spoke to Routesonline about the recovery and how the AirAsia Group is responding to it. We see what’s happening.
How are things in AirAsia’s core markets?
Parés Prat says that how things are going depends greatly on the individual country. This is no different from how things are developing at different rates across nations anywhere else in the world.
Important in this is the rate of vaccinations, when they’ll be delivered, and when herd immunity may take effect. And when borders are once again fully opened, with most intra-Asia travel currently prohibited except for essential travel reasons.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a huge spike in with cases in Malaysia. Currently, the country is pretty much on full lockdown so travel is really limited and just for essential purposes. I would say that right now we are currently at one of the lowest levels we’ve seen. But hopefully, we’ll have some news on this lockdown coming up soon.”
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AirAsia at 19% of pre-pandemic capacity
The difficulty confronting the AirAsia Group is plain to see. In the week beginning July 19th, it presently has just over 2,000 outbound flights planned, based on its schedule submission to OAG, down from 10,800 in the same week in 2019.
Malaysia is AirAsia’s core country. It is the foundation, and Kuala Lumpur is ordinarily the number-one airport for the Group. However, the Malaysia unit (IATA code: AK) is suffering greatly. In this July week, it is now the fourth-largest by planned departures. It is now behind AirAsia India (code: I5), Thai AirAsia (FD), and Indonesia AirAsia (QZ). Only Philippines AirAsia (Z2) and AirAsia X (D7) have fewer departures.
Domestic is doing better
The importance of domestic markets in the recovery is crucial to airlines worldwide, subject to coronavirus cases, vaccination progress, and any restrictions. This is why the US is doing so well and we showed that Fort Myers is leading the pack.
It also explains why AirAsia India, with its exclusively domestic network, is leading the pack for now. Indeed, across all carriers, domestic India traffic has increased for four weeks running. Of the Group’s routes with 14+ weekly departures, shown in the map, only one is now within Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Kota Kinabalu (BKI).
Many more domestic departures planned
As illustrated in the following figure, AirAsia plans significantly more domestic departures than international. This is because borders remain virtually closed. Domestically, departures will be at 33% of pre-coronavirus levels, against just 1% internationally. As Parés Prat said:
“Mostly we are focused on domestic; international for Malaysia is very minimal at the moment. That’s mainly because leisure is not allowed internationally and the recipient countries are also all pretty much fully closed.
In Thailand, we are not flying scheduled international flights at all because of the borders. In the Philippines and Indonesia, the cases are still pretty high, but in the Philippines we’re seeing an uptick of demand. Leisure is allowed in certain regions so we are starting to ramp up.”
Domestic Malaysia is at 8% capacity
In normal times, AK has the largest domestic network of any unit, but come July, this will be down by 92% versus 2019. Over 2,000 weekly departures have been lost, with its domestic Malaysia network reducing to just 21 routes.
AirAsia had expected 89 weekly departures (about 13 daily) on the 201-mile link between Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Now, none are bookable, as shown below.
But, it can ramp up very quickly
While Parés Prat acknowledged the heavy restrictions imposed by certain countries, he remains hopeful, helped by the ability of AirAsia to ramp up very quickly. In the meantime, the network planning team is busy scenario planning, keeping an eye on vaccination rates and COVID cases in all served countries, developments regarding travel bubbles, and lobbying governments to create travel corridors.
“Across the network, when there haven’t been any restrictions we’ve been able to ramp up very fast in domestic markets; we are very reactive to that. And as soon as we can, we deploy capacity and we actually see good load factors and fares.”
Are you planning to fly AirAsia this year? Let us know in the comments.