LAST year International passenger demand fell by 75.6% compared to 2019 levels, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The global passenger traffic results for 2020 showed the sharpest decline in history for revenue passenger kilometres, which fell by 65.9% compared with the full year of 2019, revealed IATA in a statement.

“Capacity, measured in available seat kilometres or ASKs, declined 68.1% and load factor fell 19.2 percentage points to 62.8%,” said IATA in a statement announcing the results.

“Domestic demand in 2020 was down 48.8%
compared to 2019. Capacity contracted by 35.7% and load factor dropped 17
percentage points to 66.6%.”

Commenting on the results, IATA director-general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said: “Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it.

“What recovery there was over the northern hemisphere summer season stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of Covid-19.”

2020 was a catastrophic year for airlines worldwide, says Alexandre de Juniac. (Image credit: IATA)

According to the trade association, the baseline forecast for 2021 is for a 50.4% improvement on 2020 demand that would bring the industry to 50.6% of 2019 levels.

“While this view remains unchanged there is
a severe downside risk if more severe travel restrictions in response to new
variants persist. Should such a scenario materialise, demand improvement could
be limited to just 13% over 2020 levels, leaving the industry at 38% of 2019
levels,” it added.

De Juniac opines the optimism that the arrival and initial distribution of vaccines “would lead to a prompt and orderly restoration in global air travel have been dashed in the face of new outbreaks and new mutations of the disease.”

He added the world is more locked down now than in the past 12 months, and passengers are facing “a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally uncoordinated travel restrictions.”

He urges governments to work with industry
to develop the standards for vaccination, testing, and validation that will give
governments the confidence that borders can reopen and international air travel
can resume once the virus threat has been neutralised.

“The IATA Travel Pass will help this process by providing passengers with an app to easily and securely manage their travel in line with any government requirements for Covid-19 testing or vaccine information. In the meantime, the airline industry will require continued financial support from governments in order to remain viable,” said de Juniac.

Analysis of international and domestic markets performance

International passenger markets

• Asia Pacific: APAC airlines’ full-year traffic plunged 80.3% in 2020 compared to 2019, which was the deepest decline for any region. It fell 94.7% in December amid stricter lockdowns, little changed from a 95% decline in November. Full year capacity was down 74.1% compared to 2019. Load factor fell 19.5 percentage points to 61.4%.

• Europe: European
carriers saw a 73.7% traffic decline in 2020 versus 2019. Capacity fell 66.3%
and load factor decreased 18.8 percentage points to 66.8%. For December,
traffic slid 82.3% compared to December 2019, an upturn over the 87%
year-to-year decline in November reflecting pre-holiday momentum that was
reversed toward the end of the month.

Middle East: Middle Eastern
airlines’ annual passenger demand in 2020 was 72.9% below 2019. Annual capacity
fell 63.9% and load factor plummeted 18.9 percentage points to 57.3%.
December’s traffic was down 82.6% compared to December 2019, improved from an
86.1% drop in November.

• North America: The full year traffic of airlines on the continent fell 75.4%
compared to 2019. Capacity dropped 65.5%, and load factor sank 23.9 percentage
points to 60.1%. December demand was down 79.6% compared to the same month a
year-ago, a pick-up over an 82.8% drop in November reflecting a holiday surge.

Latin America: Airlines in the region had a 71.8% full year traffic decline compared to 2019, making it the best performing region after Africa. Capacity fell 67.7% and load factor dropped 10.4 percentage points to 72.4%, by far the highest among regions. Traffic fell 76.2% for the month of December compared to December 2019, somewhat improved from a 78.7% decline in November.

Africa: Traffic of African airlines fell 69.8% last year compared to 2019, which was the best performance among regions. Capacity dropped 61.5%, and load factor sank 15.4 percentage points to 55.9%, lowest among regions. Demand for December was 68.8% below the year-ago period, well ahead of a 75.8% decline in November. Carriers here have benefitted from somewhat less severe international travel restrictions compared to the rest of the world.

Domestic passenger markets

China: Domestic passenger traffic fell 30.8% in 2020 compared to 2019. It was down 7.6% for December versus the same month a year-ago period, which was a deterioration compared to a 6.3% decline in November amid new outbreaks and resulting restrictions.

Russia: Domestic traffic fell 23.5% for the full year, but 12% for December, much improved over a 23% decline in November. Full year results were supported by booming domestic tourism over the summer and falling fares.

• See detailed Full Year/December 2020 Air Passenger Market Analysis (pdf)

Featured image credit: mixedreality/Getty Images