This is by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history, according to the aviation organisation IATA. Furthermore, forward bookings have been falling sharply since late December.
International passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6 per cent below 2019 levels. Capacity declined 68.1 per cent and load factor fell 19.2 percentage points to 62.8 per cent. Domestic demand in 2020 was down 48.8 per cent compared to 2019. Capacity contracted by 35.7 per cent and load factor dropped 17 percentage points to 66.6 per cent. December 2020 total traffic was 69.7 per cent below the same month in 2019, little improved from the 70.4 per cent contraction in November. Capacity was down 56.7 per cent and load factor fell 24.6 percentage points to 57.5 per cent.
IATA forecasts a slightly better 2021
Bookings for future travel made in January 2021 were down 70 per cent compared to a year-ago, putting further pressure on airline cash positions and potentially impacting the timing of the expected recovery.
IATA’s baseline forecast for 2021 is for a 50.4-per-cent improvement on 2020 demand that would bring the industry to 50.6 per cent of 2019 levels. While this view remains unchanged, there is a severe downside risk if more severe travel restrictions in response to new variants persist. Should such a scenario materialise, demand improvement could be limited to just 13 per cent over 2020 levels, leaving the industry at 38 per cent of 2019 levels.
Summer recovery was stalled again in autumn
“Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it. What recovery there was over the Northern hemisphere summer season stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season, as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of Covid-19,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Optimism that the arrival and initial distribution of vaccines would lead to a prompt and orderly restoration in global air travel have been dashed in the face of new outbreaks and new mutations of the disease.
“The world is more locked down today than at virtually any point in the past 12 months and passengers face a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally unco-ordinated travel restrictions. We urge governments to work with industry to develop the standards for vaccination, testing, and validation that will enable governments to have confidence that borders can re-open and international air travel can resume once the virus threat has been neutralised.”