The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2020 showing that demand (revenue passenger kilometers, or RPKs) fell by 65.9% compared with the full year of 2019; by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history. Furthermore, the organization notes that forward bookings have been falling sharply since late December.
Overall, international passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6% below 2019 levels. Capacity, (measured in available seat kilometers, or ASKs) declined 68.1% and load factor fell 19.2 percentage points to 62.8%. Meanwhile, domestic demand in 2020 was down 48.8% compared with 2019.
More worryingly, bookings for future travel made in January 2021 were down 70% compared with a year-ago, putting further pressure on airline cash positions and potentially affecting the timing of the expected recovery.
Currently, IATA’s 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 Covid-19 variants persist. Should such a scenario materialize, demand improvement could be limited to just 13% over 2020 levels, leaving the industry at 38% of 2019 levels.
Summing up the crisis facing the industry, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO stated, “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.”