Global air passenger traffic in February, measured in revenue passenger kilometres, fell by 14.1% in comparison to February 2019, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) reported on April 2. This was the sharpest fall since the notorious terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the US, reported the international airline industry’s representative body.
This reflected the rapid decline in domestic air travel in China and a severe reduction in demand for international flights to, from and within the Asia-Pacific region. In parallel, passenger capacity came down by 8.7% as airlines began to ‘park’ airliners that were no longer required. And load factor went down by 4.8% to 75.9%.
“Airlines were hit by a sledgehammer called Covid-19 in February,” pointed out Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “Borders were closed in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. And the impact on aviation has left airlines with little to do except cut costs and take emergency measures in an attempt to survive in these extraordinary circumstances. The 14.1% global fall in demand is severe, but for carriers in [the] Asia-Pacific the drop was 41%.”
The impact was, however, not uniform across the world. Regarding international flights, Middle Eastern airlines actually experienced a 1.6% increase in their traffic in February. European operators scraped out a marginal 0.2% rise for February 2020 in relation to February 2019. But this was the region’s poorest performance in ten years (traffic on routes to and from Asia decelerated significantly, but traffic within Europe was still holding up in February).
As for the other regions, Latin American airlines saw a 0.4% decline in traffic in February, year-on-year. However, this represented a better performance than that of January, which had seen a year-on-year fall of 3.5%. In North America, carriers experienced a 2.8% reduction in traffic.
Regarding Africa, the continent’s airlines registered a 1.1% decline in February. This was the region’s worst performance since 2015. The reason for the overall fall was a year-on-year collapse of 35% in traffic between Africa and Asia.
When it came to domestic air travel in China, that recorded a huge 83.6% drop in February. This was the worst result since 2000, which was when Iata started recording data for Chinese domestic air passenger demand.
“Without doubt this is the biggest crisis that the industry has ever faced,” asserted De Juniac. “This is aviation’s darkest hour and it is difficult to see a sunrise ahead unless governments do more to support the industry through this unprecedented global crisis. … Air transport will play a much-needed role in supporting the inevitable recovery. But without additional government action today, the industry will not be in a position to help when skies are brighter tomorrow.”