Is the Transpacific market on track to return to pre-pandemic levels?
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The airline market between North America and East Asia grew rapidly last decade. During 2010, as Diio by Cirium data shows, airlines flew more than 106,000 flights between the two regions. By 2019, that number exceeded 176,000.
Unfortunately the global pandemic cut short this growth with a drop to more like 60,000 in 2020. The following year, 2021, was even worse (roughly 37,000 flights) as COVID-19’s impact on East Asian air travel worsened. It’s too early to say what all of 2022 will look like but for just the third quarter of this year, the number of flights linking North America with Greater China, Japan and South Korea are still down by more than 60% from their 2019 levels.
Going back to 2019, United was the airline with the most transpacific flights. That wasn’t entirely a bad thing, because these routes were some of the best revenue producers for cargo during the pandemic. The heavy passenger exposure, however, hurt. Delta, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, All Nippon, Cathay Pacific and Air Canada were next on the rankings measured by number of transpac flights. Airlines from mainland China like Air China weren’t too far behind the pack, but their capacity was more restricted by bilateral treaties; there’s no open skies agreement between China and either the US or Canada.
The busiest routes across the Pacific mostly involve leisure spots like Hawaii and Guam, often from Japan. Exclude these island markets, and the single busiest route is Los Angeles to Tokyo, as shown below. That’s still the busiest route between the mainland US and East Asia today. This summer, in fact, all the busiest transpac routes involve either Tokyo, Seoul or Taipei, with markets like Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai still subject to severe travel restrictions.
The future of the transpac market will in part depend on when these travel restrictions ease. The US-China market, specifically, will also be shaped by the economic and political relations between the two countries. Islands like Hawaii, meanwhile, look forward to the day when tourists from Japan and elsewhere in the region start returning in large numbers.
NEXT WEEK: What makes Mexico one of the most resilient post-pandemic markets in the world?
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