IATA: Passenger demand down at start of 2021

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revealed that total passenger demand was down at the beginning of 2021. Data reveals that passenger demand in January was down 72% in comparison to January 2019 as a result of coronavirus and ongoing travel bans.

IATA Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, stated “2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot.”

Last year, the IATA downgraded its passenger traffic forecast for 2020, initially anticipating that airline passenger traffic would be down 63% compared to 2019; but then lowered expectations to 66%.

The IATA, which represent 290 airlines and 82% of global air traffic, announced last September that recovery within the aviation industry is proving weaker than expected.

The aviation industry’s slow recovery was made apparent by the disappointing finish to the 2020 summer travel season in the Northern Hemisphere as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It remains uncertain as to how summer 2021 will fare for the travel industry, with the UK government still yet to provide details as to when Brits can resume holidays abroad. The Global Travel Taskforce is set to reveal plans of when foreign holidays can recommence in April, which will help the industry gauge recovery levels.

Though summer 2020 saw demand rise as coronavirus restrictions eased, levels were still dramatically less than the same time the previous year.

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Summer 2020 passenger levels

August 2020 saw significantly reduced passenger demand worldwide, which was down 75.3% in comparison to August 2019. This figure was a mild improvement to July’s annual contraction, which was 79.5%.

Data from the IATA has shown that domestic markets have continued to perform more strongly than international markets. However, both remained substantially down, compared to the previous year.

From examining 2020’s flight figures, air passenger recovery began to wane as new COVID-19 restrictions came into force during mid-August. Flight bookings for Q4 were also disappointing, with December passenger levels forecast to be down 68% compared to last year.

Alexandre de Juniac confirmed that August’s passenger levels were the worst summer season in the aviation industry. He went on to say that global demand recovery is ‘virtually non-existent’ and highlighted that ‘domestic markets in Australia and Japan have regressed in the face of new outbreaks and travel restrictions.’

International airline passenger markets

Data for international passenger markets last August showed a significant drop of 88.3% in comparison to 2019. This number was a slight improvement to July’s figures, which saw a 91.8% decline.

Here are the August passenger traffic reduction figures by region:

Asia-Pacific airlines’ passenger traffic for August plummeted to 95.9% in comparison to 2019, not much of a change from July’s drop of 96.2%. These figures mark the sharpest contraction amongst all regions. Capacity shrank 90.4%, and load factor faded 48% to 34.8%.

European demand for August dropped to 79.9% from last year, a reasonable improvement from July’s 87% decrease, as travel restrictions in the Schengen Area were lifted. However, more recent flight data indicated that this development reversed as lockdown measures returned in some markets. Volume reduced to 68.7%, and load factor fell by 32.1% to 57.1%.

Middle Eastern airlines saw a 92.3% demand decrease during August, compared to a 93.3% fall in July. Capacity plummeted to 81.9%, and load factor shrank 47.1% to 35.3%.

North American August traffic toppled 92.4%, not much movement compared to July’s 94.4% decline. Capacity plunged 82.6%, and load factor sank 49.9% to 38.5%.

Latin American August demand fell to 93.4% compared to 2019 and also saw a 94.9% dip in July. Capacity shrivelled to 90.1% and load factor tumbled to 27.8% to 56.1%.

African airlines’ traffic for August crumbled to 90.1%, a slight improvement to July’s decline of 94.6%. Capacity reduced to 78.4%, and load factor fell 41.0% to 34.6%, the lowest among all regions.

Domestic airline passenger markets

Domestic airline passenger traffic saw a 50.9% reduction in August 2020, which was a minor improvement to the 56.9% decline witnessed in July. Domestic capacity shrank to 34.5%, and load factor fell 21.5% to 64.2%.

US airlines domestic traffic for August decreased to 69.3% compared to August last year, a mild development compared to the 71.5% reduction in July. A rise of COVID-19 outbreaks and quarantines in vital domestic markets are responsible for these disheartening results.

Russian airlines managed to see a 3.8% rise compared to their domestic traffic in August 2019. Russia was the first airline market to experience an annual increase since the start of COVID-19. A reduction in fares coupled with a rise in domestic tourism were the critical factors for this positive result.

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Consequences of dwindling passenger levels

Alexandre de Juniac explained that the usual booming passenger levels experienced during the summer tend to cushion the quieter Autumn and Winter seasons. However, dwindling airline passenger figures as a result of COVID-19, means that airlines will not be protected during quieter periods.

De Juniac believes that measures need to be put in place to support the aviation industry and give passengers the confidence to fly again. The two main highlighted points are:

  • Government support to ensure that further airline jobs are not placed at risk
  • Reopen borders and remove ‘travel killing’ quarantine measures

It is anticipated that if the above action is not taken soon, thousands of further airline jobs could be at risk as well as creating a knock-on effect for other businesses which rely on the aviation industry.

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