KUALA LUMPUR: Passenger traffic fell in January 2021 compared with both pre-Covid levels (January 2019) and the immediate month prior (December 2020), according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Total demand in January 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down 72% compared with January 2019, which was worse than the 69.7% 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% below levels in February 2019, ” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director-general and chief executive officer, said.
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% versus pre-crisis (January 2019) levels.
In December it was down 42.9% 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% below January 2019, a further drop compared with the 85.3% year-to-year decline recorded in December.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ January traffic plummeted 94.6% compared with the 2019 period, virtually unchanged from the 94.4% decline registered for December 2020 compared with a year ago.
“The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for a seventh consecutive month. Capacity dropped 86.5% and load factor sank 49.4 percentage points to 32.6%, by far the lowest among regions, ” said IATA, which represents some 290 airlines comprising 82% 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$75bil to US$95bil 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. — Bernama