Passenger traffic falls in January, cargo recovers – IATA


KUALA LUMPUR – Passenger traffic fell in January 2021 compared to both pre-COVID levels (January 2019) and the immediate month prior (December 2020), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

Total demand in January 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down 72 per cent compared to January 2019, which was worse than the 69.7 per cent year-over-year decline recorded in December 2020.

“The year 2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot. Even as vaccination programmes gather pace, new COVID variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions.

“The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Forward bookings in February this year for the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78 per cent below levels in February 2019,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director-General and Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement.

IATA said comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results were distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to January 2019 which followed a normal demand pattern.

Total domestic demand was down 47.4 per cent versus pre-crisis (January 2019) levels. In December it was down 42.9 per cent on the previous year. This weakening is largely driven by stricter domestic travel controls in China over the Lunar New Year holiday period.

International passenger demand in January was 85.6 per cent below January 2019, a further drop compared to the 85.3 per cent year-to-year decline recorded in December.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ January traffic plummeted 94.6 per cent compared to the 2019 period, virtually unchanged from the 94.4 per cent decline registered for December 2020 compared to a year ago.

“The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for a seventh consecutive month. Capacity dropped 86.5 per cent and load factor sank 49.4 percentage points to 32.6 per cent, by far the lowest among regions,” said IATA, which represents some 290 airlines comprising 82 per cent of global air traffic.

“To say that 2021 has not gotten off to a good start is an understatement. Financial prospects for the year are worsening as governments tighten travel restrictions. We now expect the industry to burn through US$75-US$95 billion in cash this year, rather than turning cash positive in the fourth quarter, as previously thought. This is not something that the industry will be able to endure without additional relief measures from governments.

“Increased testing capability and vaccine distribution are the keys for governments to unlock economic activity, including travel. It is critical that governments build and share their restart plans along with the benchmarks that will guide them. This will enable the industry to be prepared to energise the recovery without any unnecessary delay,” de Juniac said.

Global standards to securely record test and vaccination data in formats that will be internationally recognised are urgently needed.

“These will be critical to restarting international travel if governments continue to require verified testing or vaccination data. IATA will soon launch the IATA Travel Pass to help travelers and governments manage digital health credentials. But the full benefit of IATA Travel Pass cannot be realised until governments agree the standards for the information they want,” de Juniac said.

In respite, IATA said global air cargo markets show that air cargo demand in January 2021 returned to pre-COVID levels (January 2019) for the first time since the onset of the crisis. January demand also showed strong month-to-month growth over December 2020 levels.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs) up 1.1. per cent compared to January 2019 and +3.0 per cent compared to December 2020. All regions saw month-on-month improvement in air cargo demand, and North America and Africa were the strongest performers.

“Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy. But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft, de Juniac said.