Asia-Pacific is expected to have the slowest recovery, reaching only 62 per cent of 2019 levels in 2022. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Airports in the Gulf and Southeast Asia are now back at 85 per cent of their operational capacity recorded in the second quarter of 2019, when COVID-19 was still an unknown factor. Yet, operating profit margins for airports continue to remain far below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Airports Council International.

Second quarter revenues are 60 per cent below 2019 and at a similar level to 2021’s, indicating that revenues continue to remain at unsustainably low levels, leading to large operating losses for airports, said the industry body. Meanwhile, total operating expenditures declined in the first quarter compared to 2019, showing that airport operators are making efforts to reduce costs.

Workforce issues

Compared to Europe and other parts of the world, airports in Asia-Pacific and Middle East have experienced to a lesser extent manpower shortage, which is not just limited to airports but to the entire aviation ecosystem, said ACI. “This was mainly due to two concurrent factors: the long-term vision of several airports to retain their staff despite the challenging time; and to the moderate recovery of traffic compared to other regions,” said the report.

Asia-Pacific is expected to have the slowest recovery, reaching only 62 per cent of 2019 levels in 2022. “This is giving airports in the region and other aviation stakeholders time to address the challenges and reskilling and upskilling staff, providing a better career development to make airports a more attractive place for long-term career,” said ACI.

Airports Council International (ACI) said capacity in the Emerging East Asia Market - which consists of China, Mongolia, and Korea - is only at 15 per cent of 2019 numbers due to China’s ‘zero-Covid’ approach and renewed lockdowns. According to Stefano Baronci, ACI’s Asia-Pacific Director-General, “Though 2022 looks to be a more positive year for the sector, there will be bumps in our road to recovery especially in consideration of the uncertain macroeconomic scenario.”

Pent-up demand support

ACI said that pent-up demand for air travel, particularly for visiting friends and relatives and taking up postponed holidays, will continue to buoy the industry’s recovery even as the sector faces strong headwinds against inflation and geopolitical risks. Many airports are already operating at capacity in peak periods, even though the overall footfall is below 2019 levels, said the industry body.