Malaysia Posts Strong Air Travel Recovery

Date Published
December 23, 2022

Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad welcomes the return of regular Kota Kinabalu-Narita flights with a water salute. Photo courtesy of Sabah Tourism Board.

Air passenger traffic in Malaysia reached 42.2 million in the first 10 months of the year, surpassing the total for 2020 and 2021 combined, according to the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM). Passenger traffic peaked in the third quarter at 15.6 million since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

MAVCOM released this month the latest edition of Waypoint, which highlights the Malaysian aviation sector’s performance in the third quarter of 2022 as well as air connectivity trends. The report also provides insights into the aviation industry outlook for 2023.

Malaysia reopened its borders to international travel in April this year. MAVCOM said domestic and international passenger traffic reached 71.3% and 38.6% of pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter, representing a 55.9% recovery overall based on the same quarter in 2019.

Uptrend to continue

The increase in air passenger traffic is expected to continue in the fourth quarter of 2022. MAVCOM sees air passenger traffic in 2022 exceeding its best-case scenario forecast, with the highest number of seats scheduled in the final quarter of the year.

Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad, which operates 39 airports across the country, reported the resumption of pre-pandemic route services and the introduction of new destinations by airlines in the months of November and December. These include the daily flight services of MYAirline, the country’s newest low-cost airline, from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, Langkawi, Kuching, Kota Bharu, and Penang. AirAsia also introduced flights between Singapore and Sibu four times weekly in December.

The Sabah Tourism Board also said more cities in the Asia–Pacific region with direct international flights to the state before the pandemic have resumed services. The latest is Narita, Japan with Malaysian Airlines flying to Kota Kinabalu every Monday and Thursday. It also announced in December that Jin Air launched daily flights between Busan, the second largest city in the Republic of Korea, and Kota Kinabalu.

Malaysia Airports said it recorded 2.23 million international passengers in November, a 5.9% increase from October. Domestic passenger traffic increased 11.5% to 2.93 million, bringing total traffic to more than 5 million for November.

Growth forecast for 2023

In line with the global passenger traffic recovery, MAVCOM anticipates air passenger traffic in 2023 to grow between 40% and 52% to between 74.6 million and 80.8 million passengers. This will be driven by the gradual restoration of key markets beginning the fourth quarter given plans of local carriers, including Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, AirAsia X, and Batik Air, to restore capacity and increase frequency particularly to popular destinations, such as Japan, Australia, and the Middle East.

MAVCOM also forecasts cargo traffic to grow between 3% and 4.8% to between 22.4 billion and 22.8 billion freight tonne kilometer on the back of continued growth in e-commerce and the electrical and electronics sector. Nonetheless, the sector faces potential challenges in the year ahead, such as persistent inflationary pressures, rising interest rates, and recession fears.

Updated on 27 December 2022 to include Jin Air's new BusanKota Kinabalu service.