Global aviation downturn likely bottoming out: IATA

Demand for air services is beginning to recover after hitting bottom in April, driven by the uptick in domestic travel, according to IATA.

In what is an unprecedented decline, passenger demand in April (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs), plunged 94.3% compared to April 2019, as the Covid-19-related travel restrictions virtually shut down domestic and international air travel.

After April’s passenger demand trough, IATA reports first signals of uptick

More recently, figures show that daily flight totals rose 30% between the low point on April 21 and May 27, primarily in domestic operations and coming off a very low base (5.7% 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, said IATA in a statement.

In addition, it is the very first signal of aviation beginning the likely long process of re-establishing connectivity, it added.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, 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. And business confidence is showing improvement in key markets such as China, Germany, and the US.

“These are positive signs as we start to rebuild the industry from a standstill. The initial green shoots will take time – possibly years – to mature.”

IATA calculated that by the first week of April, governments in 75% of the markets tracked by IATA completely banned entry, while an additional 19% 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 show that flight levels in South Korea, China and Vietnam have risen to a point now just 22-28% lower than a year earlier. Searches for air travel on Google also were up 25% by the end of May compared to the April low, although that’s a rise from a very low base and still 60% lower than at the start of the year.

April international passenger demand collapsed 98.4% compared to April 2019, a deterioration from the 58.1% decline recorded in March; while capacity fell 95.1%.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ April traffic plummeted 98.0% compared to the year-ago period, worsened from a 70.2% drop in March; while capacity fell 94.9%.

European carriers’ April demand toppled 99.0%, a sharp decline from the 53.8% decline in March; while capacity dropped 97%.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 97.3% traffic contraction for April, compared with a 50.3% demand drop in March; while capacity collapsed 92.3%.

North American carriers had a 98.3% traffic decline in April widened from a 54.7% decline in March; while capacity fell 94.4%.

Latin American airlines experienced a 98.3% demand drop in April compared to the same month last year, from a 45.9% drop in March; while capacity fell 97.0%.

African airlines’ traffic sank 98.7% in April, nearly twice as bad as the 49.8% demand drop in March; while capacity contracted 87.7%.

On the domestic front, traffic fell 86.9% in April, with the steepest declines registered in Australia (-96.8%), Brazil (-93.1%) and the US (-95.7%). This was a sharp deterioration compared to a 51.0% decline in March. Meanwhile, domestic capacity fell 72.1%.

China’s carriers posted a 66.6% year-on-year decline in traffic in April, little change from a 68.7% decline in March, but an improvement from the 85% decline in February.

Russian airlines’ domestic traffic fell 82.7% in April compared to April 2019. The slower shrinkage compared to the other markets is attributable to the later timing of the outbreaks in the country.

“For aviation, April was our cruelest 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 the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) global guidelines for safely restarting aviation is the top priority,” said de Juniac.

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