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Air travel records 88.5 per cent decline in passenger traffic

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We have hit a wall, says IATA

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that passenger demand in September remained highly depressed across regions, including Africa.

International passenger demand in September plunged 88.8 per cent compared to September 2019, basically unchanged from the 88.5 per cent decline recorded in August. Capacity plummeted 78.9 per cent, and load factor withered 38.2 percentage points to 43.5 per cent.

Domestic demand in September was down 43.3 per cent compared to the previous year, improved from a 50.7 per cent decline in August. Compared to 2019, capacity fell 33.3 per cent and the load factor dropped 12.4 percentage points to 69.9 per cent.

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Total demand, measured in Revenue Passenger Kilometres (RPKs), was 72.8 per cent below September 2019 levels – only slightly improved over the 75.2 per cent year-to-year decline recorded in August. Capacity was down 63 per cent compared to a year ago and load factor fell 21.8 percentage points to 60.1 per cent.

IATA’s Director-General and Chief Executive Officer, Alexandre de Juniac, said they had hit a wall in the industry’s recovery.

“Resurgence in COVID-19 outbreaks – particularly in Europe and the U.S. – combined with governments’ reliance on the blunt instrument of quarantine in the absence of globally aligned testing regimes, has halted momentum toward re-opening borders to travel. Although domestic markets are doing better, this is primarily owing to improvements in China and Russia. And domestic traffic represents just a bit more than a third of total traffic, so it is not enough to sustain a general recovery,” de Juniac said.

Regional analysis showed that African airlines’ traffic sank 88.5 per cent in September, and barely budged from an 88.7 per cent drop in August. Capacity contracted 74.7 per cent, and load factor fell 39.4 percentage points to 32.6 per cent, which was the second lowest among regions.

European carriers’ September demand also collapsed 82.5 per cent versus a year ago, which was a setback compared to an 80.5 per cent decline in August. Europe was the only region to see deterioration in traffic compared to August, owing to renewed infections that led to a wave of border closings. Capacity contracted 70.7 per cent and load factor fell by 35.1 percentage points to 51.8 per cent.

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Asia-Pacific airlines’ September traffic sank 95.8 per cent compared to the year-ago period, virtually unchanged from a 96.2 per cent drop in August. The region continued to suffer from the steepest fall in traffic as flight restrictions have remained stringent with little re-opening of borders. Capacity plummeted 89.6 per cent and load factor shrank 46.8 percentage points to 31.7 per cent, the lowest among regions.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 90.2 per cent traffic decline for September, improved from a 92.3 per cent demand drop in August. Capacity tumbled 78.5 per cent, and load factor sank 40.9 percentage points to 34.4 per cent.

North American carriers saw a 91.3 per cent traffic decline in September, a slight improvement from a 92.0 per cent decline in August. Capacity toppled 78.3 per cent, and load factor dropped 49.8 percentage points to 33.4 per cent.

Latin American airlines faced a 92.2 per cent demand drop in September, compared to the same month last year, versus a 93.4 per cent decline in August versus August 2019. Capacity dived 87.9 per cent and load factor dropped 29.3 percentage points to 53.3 per cent, highest among the regions.

“Last week, we provided analysis showing that the airline industry cannot slash costs fast enough to compensate for the collapse in passenger demand brought about by COVID-19 and government border closures and quarantines. Some 4.8 million aviation-sector jobs are imperilled, as are a total of 46 million people in the broader economy whose jobs are supported by aviation.

“To avoid this economic catastrophe, governments need to align on testing as a way to open borders and enable travel without quarantine; and provide further relief measures to sustain the industry through the dark winter ahead. A broader economic recovery is only possible through the connectivity provided by aviation,” said de Juniac.

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