DALLAS — It’s been three years since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world. Last year saw some recovery as governments uncurled their travel restrictions. Asia-Pacific regions were hit the hardest, as China was the epicenter of the outbreak. Despite this, Asia saw tremendous air traffic in 2022, and it is expected to grow this year.
Air travel is close to reaching pre-COVID-19 levels globally, with some regions already surpassing those levels and others expected to reach them in the next year or two. The Asia Pacific region is currently below pre-pandemic levels, but demand and capacity are increasing steadily and are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels by 2024-2025.
North American airlines were the first to become profitable after the pandemic, due to strong domestic demand in 2022. European and Middle Eastern airlines are expected to make some profits in 2023, while airlines in the Asia Pacific region are expected to turn a profit in the coming years, due to increased demand and optimized routes.
Let’s take a closer look at the region and the most popular routes for its airlines. The data for this analysis were gathered from multiple sources, such as the OAG database, Cirium, Flights.com, Flightaware, IATA, and ICAO datasets.
The region is the most populated, with around 60% of the world’s population residing in APAC countries. With the growth of developing countries in this region, demand soars higher and higher each year.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) have both pointed out the growth in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region due to strong domestic demand and an increase in global connectivity. International organizations are working to boost growth in the region’s air travel.
Despite this, some challenges must be addressed to ensure sustained growth in the APAC region. These include a lack of infrastructure, inconsistent regulations, and environmental pressures. Developing countries are addressing these issues by constructing new airports and increasing the capacity of existing airports. Regulatory bodies are also getting more involved in the operations of airlines, monitoring their activities closely.
Finally, airlines are shifting their focus to more environmentally friendly options such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), in order to become carbon-neutral in the coming decades.
Airline choices over flying specific routes play a key role in the growth of regions. Asian and Oceania carriers are ticking the boxes right and doing exactly that, and APAC routes are leading in many aspects among other regions.
Most Flown Asia Pacific Routes of 2022
After analysis of various data points, we’ve gathered the most flown routes of 2022 by APAC carriers. We’ve also included the top airlines, which have a sizable market share on these routes.
We have also added city and airport-specific information, and subsequently mentioned flight duration, distance, and weekly flights by various carriers on these routes.
1. Hong Kong-Taipei
The Top spot is taken by the Hong Kong-Taipei route. The route is crucial for passenger and cargo operators due to its diverse trade establishments.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It has two airports, but Chek Lap Kok International Airport (HKG) is the only one available for commercial operations in the city.
Taipei is the capital city and special municipality of Taiwan. Taipei is the economic, political, academic, and artistic center of Taiwan and one of the most prominent hubs in the East Asian region. Similar to HKG, Taipei has two airports; however, Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) is used for civilian travel.
Millions of passengers pass through the route on a regular basis. Due to high demand, numerous airlines fly on the route with their best fleets, and the majority of the time with widebody aircraft. The distance of 503 miles (810 km) between HKG and TPE airports is usually covered in two hours.
Among many carriers, China Airlines (CI), Cathay Pacific (CX), Hong Kong Airlines (HX), and EVA Air (BR) are the top operators on the HKG-TPE route. More than 1,000 flights per week use these routes.
These major carriers, along with other small regional airlines, fly various nonstop flights using heavy airliners. CI deploys its Airbus A330 fleet, CX operates its A330s and A350s, HX deploys the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and A320s, and lastly, BR deploys Boeing 787s and Airbus A320s over this route.
The Jakarta–Singapore route is the second most popular in the Asia Pacific region. Both cities are known for their business acumen and tourist attractions.
Soekarno–Hatta International Airport (CGK) is the largest airport in the region. Similarly, Singapore is the city-state of the Republic of Singapore and it is the third most densely populated urban region in the world. It has two international airports, with Changi Airport (SIN) as the major one and highly rated in the world for its ambiance and infrastructure.
Similar to the number one route of HKG-TPE, CGK-SIN also takes around one hour and fifty minutes to cover a distance of 546 miles (878 kilometers). The route has more than 700 weekly flights from several airlines and heavy aircraft deployment by them.
The top operators of this route are Garuda Indonesia (GA), Batik Air (ID), AirAsia Indonesia (QZ), and Singapore Airlines (SQ). GA deploys Boeing 777s and A330s, ID operates the Boeing 737 fleet, QZ operates A320s, while SQ deploys its Boeing 777 and A330 fleet on the route.
Melbourne and Sydney are the second and most populous cities in Australia, respectively. Melbourne is a popular tourist destination, renowned for its landmarks and educational and corporate culture. It has multiple airports, with the primary one being Melbourne Airport (MEL).
Sydney is known as the Harbour and Emerald City because of its famous harbor, and Sydney Airport (SYD) is its primary commercial, military, and private airport.
Flying between the two cities takes about an hour and 35 minutes, and there are over 700 weekly flights from Qantas (QF), Virgin Australia (VA), and Jetstar (JQ). Most flights are operated by QF’s Boeing 787-800 aircraft, VA’s Boeing 737 fleet, and JQ’s Airbus A320.
4. Bangkok-Hong Kong
At number four, we have the Bangkok-Hong Kong route. HGK has made the list of the most-flew routes twice.
Bangkok is the most populous city and the capital of Thailand. Its dense population necessitates two main airports, Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK), to serve the international travelers of the country.
Hong Kong, a more business-oriented region, is a major hub due to its strategic location, serving more passengers flights than Bangkok. The Bangkok-Hong Kong route is the third most popular route in the APAC region and is about 1048 mi/1688 km.
The route is served by around 900 flights a week operated by Thai Airways (TG), Cathay Pacific (CX), and Thai Smile (WE). Top carriers mostly fly the Airbus A350-900 to accommodate the strong demand for the route, with the flight typically taking two hours and 45 minutes.
The route from Manila to Singapore is the fifth most popular in the Asia-Pacific region.
Manila is the capital city of the Philippines and the second-most populous city in the country. The greater Manila region has four commercial airports, of which Manila International Airport (MNL) handles the maximum traffic in and out of the region. MNL is the primary gateway for visitors to the Philippines and serves as a hub for many international and domestic carriers.
Singapore, due to its advantageous location, serves as a destination for international travelers, offering connecting flights from the airport, similar to Dubai (DXB). The route between Manila and Singapore has multiple airlines offering nonstop flights that take approximately three hours and 45 minutes to travel the distance of 1,488 miles (2,394 km).
With more than 600 weekly flights, the top operators that fly nonstop on the MNL-SIN route include Cebu Pacific (5J), Philippine Airlines (PR), SQ, and its LCC, Scoot (TR). 5J deploys its A321neo and A330neo aircraft, PR operates its Airbus A321 fleet, SQ deploys its Airbus A320 and A350 along with its Boeing 787s, and TR operates its Airbus A320neo and A321neo narrowbody fleet for this route.
Sydney is back at number six with Brisbane, another domestic route of Australia.
Brisbane is the capital and most populous city of Queensland and the third-most populous city in Australia. It is known for its research and innovation centers, especially in medicine and biotechnology, and attracts professionals and students from all over. Brisbane Airport (BNE) is the only airport in the city, and it serves the region adequately.
Sydney is a favorite destination for tourists and travelers due to its population and geographic location. The route between Brisbane and Sydney is serviced by multiple operators and takes around one hour and thirty minutes, covering 466 miles (750 km).
More than 800 weekly flights are operated on this route, with the top operators being QF (Boeing 737 narrowbody fleet), VA (Boeing 737 aircraft), and Jetstar (Airbus A320).
The fifth place goes to the Indian domestic route from Delhi to Mumbai. The route connects the capital city with the financial capital of the country.
Delhi is India’s capital, the Union Territory, and the second most populous city in the country. It is estimated to have a population of over 28 million, making it the largest urban area in India and the second-largest in the world (after Tokyo). Delhi has two civilian airports, with Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport, commonly known as Delhi Int’l Airport (DEL), being used for commercial operations.
Mumbai is the most populous city in India and the eighth-most populous city in the world. It is also known as the Financial capital of India, and a second airport is being deployed to meet the high demands which cannot be fulfilled by a single airport. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA), commonly known as Mumbai Int’l Airport (BOM), has two terminals and has set records for handling the highest number of flights in a day with just one operating runway.
The Delhi-Mumbai route sees more than 1500 weekly flights, and it takes around two hours and ten minutes on a nonstop flight to cover a distance of around 722 miles (1161.95 km) between the two Indian cities.
The top operators of this route deploy a narrowbody fleet and are IndiGo (6E), Air India (AI), and Vistara (UK). All top operator deploys their Airbus A320 family aircraft such as A319s, A320s, and A321s on this route.
At number eight, we have a route connecting two of the most advanced cities in the world, Seoul and Tokyo. It is the paramount route for East Asian commuters.
Seoul is the capital of South Korea and one of the world’s largest metropolitan economies. It is known for hosting the facilities and headquarters of major tech companies. Incheon International Airport (ICN) is the primary airport serving the city and is the largest airport in South Korea. It has been ranked highly by various rating agencies. The alternate airport is Gimpo International Airport (GMP), which helps to offload some of the traffic from ICN.
Tokyo is the capital and most populous city in Japan, as well as the most populous metropolitan area in the world. It has two airports serving its large population: Haneda International Airport (HND) and Narita International Airport (NRT). HND was originally the main airport serving Tokyo, but a new airport was built in Narita to accommodate the increasing passenger traffic.
Seoul to Tokyo route witnessed heavy traffic with more than 2000 weekly direct and connecting flights. It takes on an average of two hours and 20 minutes to cover the distance of 715 miles / 1150.68 km between two cities.
There are dozens of airlines flying nonstop or via connecting metropolises over this route. The top operating carriers on the route are Korean Air (KE), Japan Airlines (JL), and Asiana Airlines (OZ). KE deploys Airbus A330s, and Boeing 737s, while JL operates Boeing 737 MAX, Boeing 767s, and Airbus A330s frequently, and OZ mainly deploys Airbus A320s and A330s on this route.
9. Kuala Lumpur-Singapore
In the ninth spot, we have Singapore once again, this time connecting with Kuala Lumpur, a crucial part of southeast Asia.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia and one of the fastest-growing urban centers in the world, both in population and economic expansion. The city has Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), which serves the city’s greater conurbation. KUL is the largest and busiest airport in the country and a major hub for Malaysia Airlines (MH) and its cargo subsidiary MAHCargo. The airport is also a hub for AirAsia (AK), and Batik Air Malaysia (OD), among other carriers.
Kuala Lumpur is well connected to Singapore through its busiest airports. There are more than 800 weekly flights between the two southeast cities. It takes around one hour and five minutes for a non-stop flight to cover the distance of 185 miles / 297 km between KUL-SIN.
The top operators on this route include MH, AK, and SQ. MH mostly deploys Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737 MAX and also operates Airbus A350-900 aircraft, AK most of the time operates the Airbus A320neo fleet on this route. Lastly, SQ has a codeshare with MH like other operators, However, it still deploys its Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A350-900 aircraft fleet on this highly competitive route.
Finally, in China, the tenth most popular route in APAC connects Shanghai and Beijing. This domestic route sees a lot of traffic from government employees and local commuters.
Shanghai is one of the four directly administered cities in the People’s Republic of China. It is a major hub for finance, business and economics, research, science and technology, manufacturing, transportation, tourism, and culture and is home to the world’s busiest container port.
Shanghai has various civilian and military airports, two of which are international. Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) primarily serves domestic and regional routes, while Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) is a major hub for East Asia.
Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous capital cities in the world. It has three airports, including Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) is a major airport and one of the world’s busiest airports. While Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKK) is a newly built alternative international airport serving the district from which it gets its title.
Various operators are serving this route, with more than 2000 weekly flights. It takes around two hours and 15 minutes to cover the distance of 664 miles (1068.6 km) between two major Asian cities.
The top operators on the route are China Eastern Airlines (MU), Air China (CA), and China Southern Airlines (CZ). MU majority of the time deploys Airbus A320s, A330s, and Boeing 737 aircraft, While CA operates various types of aircraft such as Airbus A320s, A350s, Boeing 787s, and 777s on this route. Finally, CZ deploys Airbus A330, A320 family fleet, and Boeing 737 fleet to serve its passengers on this route.
Nine of the ten busiest global domestic routes belong to the APAC region. Six out of the ten busiest global international routes have seen APAC cities make the list. The countries of the Asia-Pacific region play an essential role in the global aviation industry and will remain a central part of it.
Furthermore, five of the ten most densely populated cities are located in the Asia-Pacific region. As a result, the list of the world’s busiest airports includes APAC hubs. With the increasing growth and development in the region, we can expect a large number of passengers commuting on both domestic and international routes.
Stay tuned to Airways to see more high-traffic routes from other parts of the world such as Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America.
Do you think more APAC routes will continue their dominance over the global list of busiest routes? Do let us know in the comments section of our social media channels.
Feature Image: China Airlines B-18906 Airbus A350-900 | Photo: Max Langley/Airways