AirAsia Group—controlled by Malaysian tycoons Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun’s Capital A Berhad—said first quarter traffic at its airlines across Southeast Asia nearly quadrupled, adding to signs a travel recovery is well underway as governments around the region ease Covid-19 restrictions.
The group carried 3.75 million passengers in the three months to March 31 across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, compared with 976,968 a year ago, Capital A said in a statement on Thursday. That boosted AirAsia’s overall load factor to 76% from 67%.
As travel demand recovers, AirAsia is also gradually restoring its fleet, increasing the number of its aircraft to 152 in the first quarter from 149 a year ago. At the same time, the carrier is mounting more flights, boosting overall capacity by 238% to 4.94 million passengers as of end-March.
Other Asian carriers including billionaire Lucio Tan’s Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines have also been reporting improved traffic numbers in recent months. To ensure sustained recovery, AirAsia has called on governments across the region to further ease remaining travel restrictions.
“It is a sad fact that some of our airfares cost less than the Covid-19 tests required by many countries in Asia, making the overall cost of air travel burdensome for most of the ordinary travelers that we serve,” Bo Lingam, group CEO of AirAsia Aviation Group, said in a statement on April 18. “The testing requirements, including the number and type of tests involved, should constantly be reviewed to ensure that they remain relevant, without burdening travelers nor compromising public health.”
Airlines were among the hardest hit by the pandemic as governments around the world imposed lockdowns and restricted cross-border travel to curb the spread of the virus since 2020. Global airlines will lose almost $12 billion this year after incurring about $190 billion in losses in the past two years, according to estimates by the International Air Transport Association.
As AirAsia sank deeper into the red, the airline pivoted into digital businesses and its Kuala Lumpur-listed holding company was renamed Capital A to reflect its broadening portfolio that now includes fintech as well as food and parcel deliveries. The goal is to create a superapp that will compete with Southeast Asia’s tech titans such as Indonesia’s GoTo and Singapore’s Grab and Sea Group.
Fernandes and Kamarudin took over AirAsia in 2001 to build a low-cost carrier that would make air travel affordable. The partners dropped out of the 2020 ranking of Malaysia’s 50 Richest people.