IATA has confirmed that demand for air services is
beginning to recover after hitting bottom in April.
Passenger demand in April, measured in
revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), plunged 94.3% when compared
to April 2019, as the COVID19-related travel restrictions
virtually shut down domestic and international air travel. That’s
a rate of decline never seen in the history of IATA’s traffic
series, which dates back to 1990.
More recently, figures show that daily flight
totals rose 30% between the low point on 21 April and 27 May. This
is primarily in domestic operations and off of a very low base
(5.7% of 2019 demand). While this uptick is not significant to the
global dimension of the air transport industry, it does suggest
that the industry has seen the bottom of the crisis, provided
there is no recurrence. In addition, it is the very first signal
of aviation beginning the likely long process of re-establishing
“April was a disaster for aviation as air travel
almost entirely stopped,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s
Director General and CEO. “But April may also represent the nadir
of the crisis. Flight numbers are increasing. Countries are
beginning to lift mobility restrictions. And business confidence
is showing improvement in key markets such as China, Germany, and
the US. These are positive signs as we start to rebuild the
industry from a stand-still. The initial green shoots will take
time—possibly years—to mature.”
IATA calculated that by the first week of April,
governments in 75% of the markets tracked by IATA completely
banned entry, while an additional 19% had limited travel
restrictions or compulsory quarantine requirements for
The initial flight increases have been
concentrated in domestic markets. Data from late-May show that
flight levels in Republic of Korea, China and Vietnam have risen
to a point now just 22-28% lower than a year earlier.
Searches for air travel on Google were also up 25%
by the end of May compared to the April low, although that’s a
rise from a very low base and still 60% lower than at the start of
International Passenger Markets
April international passenger demand collapsed
98.4% compared to April 2019, a deterioration from the 58.1%
decline recorded in March. Capacity fell 95.1%, and load factor
plunged 55.3 percentage points to 27.5%.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ April traffic plummeted
98.0% compared to the year-ago period, worsened from a 70.2% drop
in March. Capacity fell 94.9% and load factor shrank 49.9
percentage points to 31.3%.
European carriers’ April demand toppled 99.0%, a
sharp decline from the 53.8% decline in March. Capacity dropped
97% and load factor shrank by 58 percentage points to 27.7%.
Middle Eastern airlines posted a 97.3% traffic
contraction for April, compared with a 50.3% demand drop in March.
Capacity collapsed 92.3%, and load factor crumbled to 27.9%, down
52.9% percentage points compared to the year ago period.
North American carriers had a 98.3% traffic
decline in April widened from a 54.7% decline in March. Capacity
fell 94.4%, and load factor dropped 57.2 percentage points to
Latin American airlines experienced a 98.3% demand
drop in April compared to the same month last year, from a 45.9%
drop in March. Capacity fell 97.0% and load factor fell 34.5
percentage points to 48.1%, highest among the regions.
African airlines’ traffic sank 98.7% in April,
nearly twice as bad as the 49.8% demand drop in March. Capacity
contracted 87.7%, and load factor dived 65.3 percentage points to
just 7.7% of seats filled, lowest among regions.
Domestic Passenger Markets
Domestic traffic fell 86.9% in April, with the
steepest declines registered in Australia (-96.8%), Brazil
(-93.1%) and the US (-95.7%). This was a sharp deterioration
compared to a 51.0% decline in March. Domestic capacity fell 72.1%
and load factor dropped 44.3 percentage points to 39.5%.
China’s carriers posted a 66.6% year-on-year
decline in traffic in April, little changed from a 68.7% decline
in March but an improvement from the 85% decline in February.
Russian airlines’ domestic traffic fell 82.7% in
April compared to April 2019. The slower shrinkage compared to the
other markets is attributable to the later timing of the outbreaks
in the country.
“For aviation, April was our cruelest month.
Governments had to take drastic action to slow the pandemic,” said
de Juniac. “But that has come with the economic cost of a
traumatic global recession. Airlines will be key to the economic
recovery. It is vital that the aviation industry is ready with
bio-safety measures that passengers and air transport workers have
confidence in. That’s why the speedy implementation of
International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) global
guidelines for safely re-starting aviation is the top priority.”