IATA statistics confirm 2020 as worst year for air transport on record

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released its 2020 World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) report, demonstrating the devastating effects of the pandemic on the air transport industry.

According to IATA, 1.8bn passengers flew in 2020, a decrease of 60.2% compared to the 4.5 billion who flew in 2019. Industry-wide air travel demand (measured in revenue passenger-kilometers, or RPKs) dropped by 65.9% year-on-year.

Air connectivity declined by more than half in 2020 with the number of routes connecting airports falling dramatically at the outset of the crisis and was down more than 60% year-on-year in April 2020.

Total industry passenger revenues fell by 69% to US$189bn in 2020, and net losses were US$126.4bn in total. The decline in air passengers transported in 2020 was the largest recorded since global RPKs started being tracked around 1950.

Willie Walsh, director general, IATA, said, “2020 was a year that we’d all like to forget, but analyzing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance. At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66% of the world’s commercial air transport fleet was grounded as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines. A million jobs disappeared. And industry losses for the year totaled $126 billion. Many governments recognized aviation’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support. But it was the rapid actions by airlines and the commitment of our people that saw the airline industry through the most difficult year in its history.”

Key 2020 airline performance figures from WATS:

  • Systemwide, airlines carried 1.8 billion passengers on scheduled services, a decrease of 60.2% over 2019
  • On average, there was a US$71.7 loss incurred per passenger in 2020, corresponding to net losses of $126.4 billion in total
  • Measured in ASKs (available seat kilometers), global airline capacity plummeted by 56.7%, with international capacity being hit the hardest with a reduction of 68.3%
  • Systemwide passenger load factor dropped to 65.1% in 2020, compared to 82.5% the year prior
  • The Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic with a drop of 71.5% in RPKs versus 2019, followed by Europe (-69.7%) and the Africa region (-68.5%)
  • China became the largest domestic market in 2020 for the first time on record, as air travel rebounded faster in their domestic market following their efforts to control COVID-19

The regional rankings (based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines registered in that region) are:

  • Asia-Pacific: 780.7 million passengers, a decrease of 53.4% compared to the region’s passengers in 2019
  • North America: 401.7 million passengers, down 60.8% over 2019
  • Europe: 389.9 million passengers, down 67.4% over 2019
  • Latin America: 123.6 million passengers, down 60.6% over 2019
  • Middle East: 8 million passengers, a decrease of 67.6% over 2019
  • Africa: 34.3 million passengers, down 65.7% over 2019

The top five airlines ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometers flown, were:

  • American Airlines (124 billion)
  • China Southern Airlines (110.7 billion)
  • Delta Air Lines (106.5 billion)
  • United Airlines (100.2 billion)
  • China Eastern Airlines (88.7 billion)

The top five route areas by passenger demand (RPKs), with the largest drop being seen in routes within the Far East:

  • Within Europe (290.3 million, down 70.7% from 2019)
  • Europe – North America (122.9 million, decreased 80.4% from 2019)
  • Within Far East (117.3 million, a decrease of 84.1% from 2019)
  • Europe – Far East (115.3 million, a decrease of 79% from 2019)
  • Middle East – Far East (104 million, down 73.6% from 2019)

The top five domestic passenger airport-pairs were all in Asia and outperformed top international routes as domestic recovery returned faster, particularly in China:

  • Jeju – Seoul Gimpo (10.2 million, up 35.1% over 2019)
  • Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City (5.9 million, an increase of 54.3% from 2019)
  • Shanghai-Hongqiao – Shenzhen (3.7 million, up 43.4% from 2019)
  • Beijing-Capital – Shanghai-Hongqiao (3.6 million, increased by 11.8% from 2019)
  • Guangzhou – Shanghai-Hongqiao (3.5 million, up 41.2% from 2019)

The top five nationalities traveling by air (international) were:

  • United States (45.7 million, or 9.7% of all passengers)
  • United Kingdom (40.8 million, or 8.6% of all passengers)
  • Germany (30.8 million, or 6.5% of all passengers)
  • France (23.3 million, or 4.9% of all passengers)
  • India (17.4 million, or 3.7% of all passengers)
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Dan originally joined Passenger Terminal World in 2014 having spent the early years of his career in the recruitment industry. As online editor, he now produces daily content for the website and supports the editor with the publication of each exciting new issue. When he’s not reporting on the latest aviation news, Dan can be found on the golf course or apprehensively planning his next DIY project.

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