Iata reports world air passenger traffic last year improved in comparison to 2020

25th January 2022 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) – the representative body of the global airline industry – has reported that air passenger traffic for the whole of last year, while still significantly down on the figure for 2019 (the last full year before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic) was also an improvement on the figure for 2020. Passenger traffic last year was 58.4% below that recorded in 2019, but the figure for 2020 had been 65.8% down on that for 2019.

There was a great disparity in domestic and international air passenger traffic last year. International traffic was 75.5% below that for 2019, but domestic traffic declined by the much smaller figure of 28.2%. In comparison to 2019, international passenger capacity dropped 65.3%, while domestic capacity fell by 19.2%. The load factor on international flights declined by 24 percentage points to 58%, but that on domestic flights was down by 9.3 percentage points to 74.3%.

“Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021,” noted Iata director-general Willie Walsh. “That trend continued in December despite travel restrictions in the face of [Covid-19 variant] Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel.”

Restrictions introduced to try and slow the spread of Omicron did slow the recovery of international air travel demand during December, by about two weeks. Nevertheless, December international air passenger demand, at a level 58.4% below that recorded in December 2019, was still an improvement over that for November, when it had been 60.5% down on the figure for November 2019. However, without Omicron, Iata calculated that the December 2021 number would have been better, at some 56.5% below that of December 2019.

“The challenge for 2022 is to reinforce that confidence by normalising travel,” he stressed. “While international travel remains far from normal in many parts of the world, there is momentum in the right direction. Last week, France and Switzerland announced significant easing of measures. And [on Monday] the UK removed all testing requirements for vaccinated travellers. We hope others will follow their important lead, particularly in Asia where several key markets remain in virtual isolation.”

Regarding international air passenger traffic, and in terms of the regions into which Iata divides the world, Africa performed the best last year, with a decline of 65.2% in comparison to 2019. The second-best performance was recorded by North America, with a reduction of 65.6%. Next came Latin America, down 66.9%, and then Europe, with a fall of 67.6%. The Middle Eastern recorded a drop of 71.6%. But Asia-Pacific registered a collapse of 93.2%, the worst performance of all the regions.