Air passenger traffic slumps 60.2%: Iata

Industry-wide air travel demand dropped by 65.9 per cent year-on-year last year.
Industry-wide air travel demand dropped by 65.9 per cent year-on-year last year.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Air passenger numbers fell to their lowest level in 70 years in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the global air travel industry, according to the latest data released by the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Iata's World Air Transport Statistics, released on Wednesday, revealed that only 1.8 billion passengers flew last year, a fall of 60.2 per cent compared to the 4.5 billion who flew in 2019.

The numbers were dismal.

Industry-wide air travel demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometres, or RPKs) dropped by 65.9 per cent year-on-year last year.

International passenger demand decreased by 75.6 per cent compared to the year before, while domestic air passenger demand dropped by 48.8 per cent.

Total industry passenger revenue fell by 69 per cent to US$189 billion (S$255 billion) last year, and net losses amounted to US$126.4 billion.

In all, the decline in air passengers transported last year was the largest recorded since global RPKs started being tracked in around 1950.

"2020 was a year that we'd all like to forget. But analysing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance," observed Mr Willie Walsh, Iata's director-general.

"At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66 per cent of the world's commercial air transport fleet was grounded as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines. A million jobs disappeared," he said.

Measured in ASKs (available seat kilometres), global airline capacity plummeted by 56.7 per cent, with international capacity being hit the hardest with a reduction of 68.3 per cent.

System-wide passenger load factor (or percentage of seats occupied) dropped to 65.1 per cent last year compared to 82.5 per cent in 2019.

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

The Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic with a drop of 71.5 per cent in RPKs, followed by Europe (down 69.7 per cent) and the Africa region (down 68.5 per cent).

But the largest drop in intra-region passenger traffic was in east Asia, where passenger traffic plummeted 84.1 per cent, or 117.3 million travellers, as Asian countries scrambled to close borders amid the spreading pandemic.

Meanwhile, passenger traffic between Europe and East Asia fell 79 per cent, while that between the Middle East and East Asia dived 73.6 per cent.

Total passengers carried on scheduled services in Asia fell to 780.7 million, a 53.4 per cent fall from 2019.

China became the largest domestic market last year for the first time on record, as air travel rebounded faster in the domestic market following its efforts to control Covid-19.

The only bright spot in aviation last year was air freight.

As global supply chains cranked into higher gear to move goods, vaccines, personal protective equipment and vital medical supplies, bellyholds of passenger aircraft filled up around the world.

As a result, industry-wide available cargo tonne kilometres fell 21.4 per cent year-on-year last year. This led to a capacity crunch, with the industry-wide cargo load factor up seven percentage points to 53.8 per cent - the highest recorded by Iata since such statistics were first collated in 1990.