Passenger demand beginning to recover, according to recent IATA data

After reaching the lowest recorded rate since records began in 1990 during April 2020, IATA data has outlined the beginning of an increase in passenger demand.

Passenger demand beginning to recover, according to recent IATA data

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that passenger demand for air services is beginning to recover after hitting a drastic low in April 2020.

Passenger demand in April 2020 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres, or RPKs), fell by 94.3 per cent, compared to April 2019. The fall was a direct result of the COVID-19-related travel restrictions that virtually shut down domestic and international air travel. This is a rate of decline that has never been seen in the history of IATA’s traffic series, which dates back to 1990. 

More recently, figures show that daily flight totals rose by 30 per cent between the low point on 21 April and 27 May 2020. This is primarily in domestic operations and off of a very low base (5.7 per cent of 2019 demand). While this uptick is not significant to the global dimension of the air transport industry, it does suggest that the industry has seen the bottom of the crisis, provided there is no recurrence. In addition, it is the very first signal of aviation beginning the likely long process of re-establishing connectivity.  

IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said: “April was a disaster for aviation as air travel almost entirely stopped. But April may also represent the nadir of the crisis. Flight numbers are increasing. Countries are beginning to lift mobility restrictions. Business confidence is showing improvement in key markets such as China, Germany and the U,S. These are positive signs as we start to rebuild the industry from a stand-still. The initial greenshoots will take time – possibly years – to mature.”

IATA calculated that, by the first week of April 2020, governments in 75 per cent of the markets tracked by IATA completely banned entry, while an additional 19 per cent had limited travel restrictions or compulsory quarantine requirements for international arrivals.

The initial flight increases have been concentrated in domestic markets. Data from late May 2020 shows that flight levels in Republic of Korea, China and Vietnam have risen to a point now only 22-28 per cent lower than in 2019. Searches for air travel on Google also were up 25 per cent by the end of May 2020 compared to the April 2020 low, although that’s a rise from a very low base and is still 60 per cent lower than at the start of the year. 

April international passenger demand collapsed 98.4 per cent compared to April 2019, a deterioration from the 58.1 per cent decline recorded in March. Capacity fell by 95.1 per cent and load factor plunged 55.3 percentage points to 27.5 per cent.

“For aviation, April was our cruellest month. Governments had to take drastic action to slow the pandemic. But that has come with the economic cost of a traumatic global recession. Airlines will be key to the economic recovery. It is vital that the aviation industry is ready with bio-safety measures that passengers and air transport workers have confidence in. That’s why the speedy implementation of International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) global guidelines for safely re-starting aviation is the top priority,” said de Juniac.

The ICAO Council’s “Takeoff: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis” is the authoritative and comprehensive framework of risk-based temporary measures for air transport operations during the COVID-19 crisis. These were developed through broad-based consultations with governments, the World Health Organization (WHO) and with key advice from aviation industry groups including IATA, Airports Council International (ACI World), the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), and the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA). De Juniac said: “We fully support its recommendations and look forward to working with governments for a well-coordinated implementation. The world cannot afford to delay.”

Regional passenger demand impact

Asia-Pacific airlines’ April 2020 traffic plummeted by 98 per cent compared to the 2019 period, worsening from a 70.2 per cent drop in March 2020. Capacity fell by 94.9 per cent and load factor shrank 49.9 percentage points to 31.3 per cent.

European carriers’ April 2020 demand toppled by 99 per cent, an even sharper decline from the already sharp 53.8 per cent decline in March 2020. Capacity dropped by 97 per cent and load factor shrank by 58 percentage points to 27.7 per cent.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 97.3 per cent traffic contraction for April 2020, compared with a 50.3 per cent demand drop in March 2020. Capacity collapsed by 92.3 per cent, and load factor crumbled to 27.9 per cent, down by 52.9 percentage points compared to the 2019 period.  

North American carriers had a 98.3 per cent traffic decline in April 2020, widening from a 54.7 per cent decline in March 2020. Capacity fell 94.4 per cent, and load factor dropped 57.2 percentage points to 25.7 per cent.

Latin American airlines experienced a 98.3 per cent demand drop in April 2020 compared to the same month in 2019, from a 45.9 per cent drop in March 2020. Capacity fell by 97.0 per cent and load factor fell 34.5 percentage points to 48.1 per cent, the highest among the regions. 

African airlines’ traffic sank by 98.7 per cent in April 2020, nearly twice as bad as the 49.8 per cent demand drop in March 2020. Capacity contracted by 87.7 per cent, and load factor dived 65.3 percentage points to just 7.7 per cent of seats filled, the lowest among the regions.

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