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Passenger traffic declines by 74% over COVID-19 restrictions

By Wole Oyebade
08 April 2021   |   4:21 am
Passenger traffic demand has declined by 74.7 per cent globally as countries mount various travel restrictions to check coronavirus new variants.

Flight passengers wait at Duesseldorf Airport in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on December 21, 2020, amid the ongoing novel coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

Passenger traffic demand has declined by 74.7 per cent globally as countries mount various travel restrictions to check coronavirus new variants.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), in the latest figures released yesterday said the decline, compared to pre-COVID February 2019, was worse than the 72.2 per cent slump recorded in January 2021.

Airlines’ traffic in Africa dropped 68.0 per cent in February 2021 versus February two years ago, which was a setback compared to a 66.1 per cent decline recorded in January compared to January 2019. February capacity contracted 54.6 per cent versus February 2019, and load factor fell 20.5 percentage points to 49.1 per cent.

Besides the travel restrictions in some key destinations like Dubai, airlines in Nigeria are also faced with low capacity utilisation, as several operating aircraft are either on the ground awaiting routine maintenance or stuck in repair facilities abroad.

Globally, the total demand for air travel in February 2021 was down 74.7 per cent compared to February 2019. That was as international passenger demand in February was 88.7 per cent below February 2019, a further drop from the 85.7 per cent year-to-year decline recorded in January and the worst growth outcome since July 2020. Performance in all regions worsened compared to January 2021.

Total domestic demand was down 51.0 per cent versus pre-crisis (February 2019) levels. In January it was down 47.8 per cent on the 2019 period. This largely was owing to weakness in China travel, driven by government requests that citizens stay at home during the Lunar New Year travel period.

IATA’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, said February showed no indication of a recovery in demand for international air travel.

“In fact, most indicators went in the wrong direction as travel restrictions tightened in the face of continuing concerns over new coronavirus variants. An important exception was the Australian domestic market. A relaxation of restrictions on domestic flying resulted in significantly more travel. This tells us that people have not lost their desire to travel. They will fly, provided they can do so without facing quarantine measures,” Walsh said.

According to the regions, European carriers recorded an 89 per cent decline in traffic in February versus February 2019, substantially worse than the 83.4 per cent decline in January compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity sank 80.5 per cent and load factor fell by 36 percentage points to 46.4 per cent.

Middle Eastern airlines saw demand fall 83.1 per cent in February compared to February 2019, worsened from an 82.1 per cent demand drop in January, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 68.6 per cent, and load factor declined 33.4 percentage points to 39 per cent.

North American carriers’ February traffic sank 83.1 per cent compared to the 2019 period, deterioration from a 79.2 per cent decline in January year to year. Capacity sagged 63.9 per cent, and load factor dropped 41.9 percentage points to 36.7 per cent.

Latin American airlines experienced an 83.5 per cent demand drop in February, compared to the same month in 2019, markedly worse than the 78.5 per cent decline in January 2019. February capacity was 75.4 per cent down compared to February 2019 and load factor dropped 26.7 percentage points to 54.6 per cent, the highest among the regions for a fifth consecutive month.

Walsh said the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated that vaccinated individuals could travel safely. “That is good news. We have also recently seen Oxera-Edge Health research highlighting the efficacy of fast, accurate and affordable rapid tests for COVID-19. These developments should reassure governments that there are ways to efficiently manage the risks of COVID-19 without relying on demand-killing quarantine measures and/or expensive and time-consuming PCR testing.

“Two key components for an efficient restart of travel need to be urgently progressed. The first is the development of global standards for digital COVID-19 test and/or vaccination certificates. The second is that the government agreed to accept certificates digitally. Our experiences to date already demonstrate that paper-based systems are not a sustainable option. They are vulnerable to fraud. And, even with the limited amount of flying today, the check-in process needs pre-COVID-19 staffing levels just to handle the paperwork.”

“Paper processes will not be sustainable when traveling ramps up. The IATA Travel Pass app was developed precisely in anticipation of this need to manage health credentials digitally. Its first full implementation trial is focused on Singapore, where the government has already announced that it will accept health certificates through the app. This will be an essential consideration for all governments when they are ready to relink their economies with the world through air travel,” Walsh said.