Governments’ response to Omicron threatens airlines’ recovery — IATA
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that the recovery in air travel continued in October 2021 with broad-based improvements in both domestic and international markets. It, however, warned that the imposition of travel bans by governments, against the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO), could threaten the sector’s recovery as comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19.
According to IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh, “October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are permitted to. Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant are putting the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild at risk.”
Walsh further noted that the lifting of the US restrictions on travel from some 33 countries last month raised hopes that a surge in pent-up travel demand would buoy traffic over the coming Northern Hemisphere winter.
“But the emergence of the Omicron variant panicked many governments into once again restricting or entirely removing the freedom to travel – even though WHO clearly advised that ‘blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.
“The logic of the WHO advice was evident within days of Omicron’s identification in South Africa, with its presence already confirmed in all continents. The ill-advised travel bans are as ineffective as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”
Walsh continued: “Last month, IATA released a Blueprint to help guide governments in safely re-opening their borders with data-driven decision-making. Specifically, IATA urged governments to focus on three key areas: Simplified health protocols, digital solutions to process health credentials and COVID-19 measures proportional to risk levels with a continuous review process.
“Additionally, governments must address the terrible disparity in vaccination rates that has seen the developed world offering boosters at a time when less than 10 percent of the African continent is fully vaccinated.”
Walsh further stated that the total demand for air travel in October 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 49.4 per cent compared to October 2019. This was improved over the 53.3 percent fall recorded in September 2021, compared to two years earlier.
“Domestic markets were down 21.6 percent compared to October 2019, bettering the 24.2 percent decline recorded in September versus September 2019. International passenger demand in October was 65.5 percent below October 2019, compared to a 69.0 percent decline for September versus the 2019 period, with all regions showing improvement.”
He also revealed that European carriers’ October international traffic declined 50.6 per cent versus October 2019, much improved over the 56.5 per cent drop in September compared to September 2019. Capacity dropped 41.3 percent and load factor fell 13.7 percentage points to 72.5 percent. “Asia-Pacific airlines saw their October international traffic fall 92.8 per cent compared to October 2019, fractionally improving over the 93.1 percent decline recorded for September 2021 compared to two years ago. Capacity dropped 83.8 per cent and the load factor was down 44.0 percentage points to 35.7 percent, the lowest among regions by far.
“Middle Eastern airlines had a 60.3 per cent demand drop in October compared to October 2019, a huge jump over the 67.1 per cent traffic drop recorded in September against September 2019. Capacity declined 49.1 per cent, and load factor slipped 16.1 percentage points to 57.5 percent.
“North American carriers experienced a 57.0 per cent traffic drop in October versus the 2019 period, improved from a 61.4 percent decline in September 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 43.2 per cent, and load factor fell 20.0 percentage points to 62.4 percent.
“Latin American airlines saw a 55.1 per cent drop in October traffic, compared to the same month in 2019. In September, traffic was down 61.4 per cent compared to two years ago. October capacity fell 52.5 percent and load factor dropped 4.3 percentage points to 76.9 percent, which was the highest load factor among the regions for the 13th consecutive month.
“African airlines’ traffic fell 60.2 percent in October versus two years’ ago. Traffic in September was down 62.1 percent over the corresponding 2019 period. October capacity was down 49.0 per cent and load factor declined 15.2 percentage points to 54.1 per cent.”