The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2020 showing that total demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) fell by 65.9% compared to the full year of 2019, by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history.
Domestic demand in 2020 was down 48.8% worldwide compared to 2019. Capacity contracted by 35.7% and load factor dropped 17 percentage points to 66.6%.
International travel suffered the steepest decline. International passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6% below 2019 levels. Capacity, (measured in available seat kilometers or ASKs) declined 68.1% and load factor fell 19.2 percentage points to 62.8%.
These are the 2020 statistics for international traffic by region.
Asia-Pacific. Full-year traffic plunged 80.3% in 2020 compared to 2019, which was the deepest decline for any region. It fell 94.7% in the month of December amid stricter lockdowns, little changed from a 95% decline in November. Full year capacity was down 74.1% compared to 2019. Load factor fell 19.5 percentage points to 61.4%.
Europe. The region experienced a 73.7% traffic decline in 2020 versus 2019. Capacity fell 66.3% and load factor decreased 18.8 percentage points to 66.8%. For the month of December, traffic slid 82.3% compared to December 2019, an upturn over the 87% year-to-year decline in November reflecting pre-holiday momentum that was reversed toward the end of the month.
Middle East. Annual passenger demand in 2020 was 72.9% below 2019. Annual capacity fell 63.9% and load factor plummeted 18.9 percentage points to 57.3%. December’s traffic was down 82.6% compared to December 2019, improved from an 86.1% drop in November.
North America. Full year traffic fell 75.4% compared to 2019. Capacity dropped 65.5%, and load factor sank 23.9 percentage points to 60.1%. December demand was down 79.6% compared to the same month a year-ago, a pick-up over an 82.8% drop in November reflecting a holiday surge.
Latin America. Full year traffic declined 71.8% compared to 2019, making it the best performing region after Africa. Capacity fell 67.7% and load factor dropped 10.4 percentage points to 72.4%, by far the highest among regions. Traffic fell 76.2% for the month of December compared to December 2019, somewhat improved from a 78.7% decline in November.
Africa. Traffic fell 69.8% last year compared to 2019, which was the best performance among regions. Capacity dropped 61.5%, and load factor sank 15.4 percentage points to 55.9%, lowest among regions. Demand for the month of December was 68.8% below the year-ago period, well ahead of a 75.8% decline in November. Carriers in the region have benefitted from somewhat less severe international travel restrictions compared to the rest of the world.
For 2021, IATA forecasts a 50.4% improvement on 2020 demand that would bring the industry to 50.6% of 2019 levels.
A major impediment to restoring international air traffic is the bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally uncoordinated travel restrictions. IATA maintains that the best way to get air travel back on track is for governments to work with the airline industry to develop uniform standards for vaccination, testing, and validation that will enable countries to have confidence that borders can reopen and international air travel can resume. Another issue countries and airlines must deal with are the new variants of SARS-CoV-2 that are more transmissible and potentially more lethal.
These statistics represent the experience of IATA-represented airlines. IATA represents 290 airlines in 120 countries. Carrying 82% of the world’s air traffic, IATA members include the world’s leading passenger and cargo airlines.
It may be that the only way travel and life in general returns to a semblance of their pre-pandemic state will be when herd immunity is achieved through vaccination or infection. Hopefully the current crop of vaccines will prove effective against new variants, and the new variants can not cause reinfection in those who have already been infected.