Iata statistics confirm depth of airline industry crisis last year

4th August 2021 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The release on Tuesday of the International Air Transport Association’s (Iata’s) 'Iata World Air Transport Statistics' report, covering 2020, has confirmed with hard data the depth of the crisis that afflicted the global aviation industry last year, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Iata is the representative body for the world’s airlines.)

Overall, air passenger traffic in 2020 was 60.2% down on that for 2019. In numbers, airlines carried 1.8-billion passengers last year, compared with 4.5-billion in 2019. Measured in revenue passenger-kilometres (RPKs) air travel demand in 2020 dropped even further: by 65.9%. Also in RPK terms, international passenger demand collapsed 75.6% year-on-year, with domestic air passenger demand falling 48.8%. The fall in overall passenger numbers was the greatest since RPKs were first recorded (which was around 1950).

Turning to financial matters, total passenger revenues in the sector dropped 69%, coming to $189-billion last year. Total net losses came to $126.4-billion. Airlines suffered a net loss of $71.7 for each passenger carried.

“2020 was a year that we’d all like to forget,” affirmed Iata director-general Willie Walsh. “At the depths 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 totalled $126-billion.”

The one bright spot for the industry last year was air cargo. This sector adapted to the crisis in order to keep goods moving both domestically and internationally. These goods included personal protective equipment and vaccines. This was achieved despite the loss of airliner belly-hold cargo volumes, which saw air cargo capacity in 2020 fall 21.4% in year-on-year terms. This drove air cargo load factors up by seven percentage points to 53.8%, the highest level since Iata started keeping these statistics (in 1990).

However, total air cargo demand still fell by 9.7% last year, compared with 2019. This was the biggest fall since the 2009 Global Financial Crisis. But by the end of 2020 global air cargo demand had returned to levels near those recorded before the onset of the pandemic.

“Many governments recognised aviation’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support,” he pointed out. “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.”