Amid efforts to restart travel operations on several international routes, safety restrictions and quarantine have continued to frustrate recovery with air traffic demand recording another slump.
The latest market statistics recently released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), showed that air travel in April 2021 was down 65.4 per cent compared to April 2019.
African airlines’ traffic fell 78.3 per cent in April versus April two years ago, marking a significant deterioration compared to a 73.7 per cent decline recorded in March compared to March 2019. April capacity contracted 64.0 per cent versus April 2019, and load factor fell 29.1 percentage points to 43.9 per cent.
Findings showed that domestic traffic is showing improvement, though not yet for international operations. Except for France and Spain that have lately opened up to inoculated travellers, many countries still have discouraging restrictions in place.
International passenger demand in April was 87.3 per cent below April 2019, little changed from the 87.8 per cent decline recorded in March 2021 versus two years ago.
Total domestic demand was down 25.7 per cent versus pre-crisis levels (April 2019), much improved over March 2021, when domestic traffic was down 31.6 per cent versus the 2019 period. As with March, all markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared to March 2021, with both China and Russia reporting traffic growth compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.
IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, said the continuing strong recovery in domestic markets shows that when people are given the freedom to fly, they take advantage of it.
“Unfortunately, that freedom still does not exist in most international markets. When it does, I’m confident we will see a similar resurgence in demand,” Walsh said.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ April international traffic was down 94.4 per cent compared to April 2019, incrementally improving compared to the 94.9 per cent decline registered in March 2021 versus March 2019.
The region experienced the steepest traffic declines for a ninth consecutive month. Capacity was down 86.3 per cent and the load factor sank 47.7 percentage points to 33.5 per cent, the lowest among regions.
European carriers saw an 87.7 per cent decline in traffic in April versus April 2019, barely changed from the 88.2 per cent decline in March compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 78.2 per cent and load factor dropped 37.3 percentage points to 48.4 per cent.
Middle Eastern airlines posted an 82.9 per cent demand drop in April compared to April 2019, which was weaker than the 81.6 per cent decline in March, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 65.3 per cent, and load factor fell 41.1 percentage points to 39.6 per cent.
“As we enter the peak summer travel season in the Northern Hemisphere, we know that many people want to enjoy their freedom to travel. But for that to happen safely and efficiently amid the COVID-19 crisis, a more targeted approach is needed. Most governments’ policies today default to the closing of borders. After a year-and-a-half of COVID-19 there is sufficient data for governments to manage the risks of COVID-19 without blanket travel bans.
“We have, for example, strong indications from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Koch Institute and others that vaccinated travellers pose very little risk to the local population. And data show that pre-departure testing largely removes the risk of unvaccinated travellers importing COVID. UK data confirm that about 98 per cent of arriving passengers detained by universal quarantine orders left confinement with no signs of the disease.
“Governments are naturally risk-averse, but successfully managing risk is aviation’s bread and butter. With indications that COVID-19 is becoming endemic, governments and industry must work together to rebuild global connectivity while managing the associated risks. Leadership by the G7 to move in this direction would be a major step forward. Safely restoring travel freedom and reconnecting countries will drive economic growth and job creation,” Walsh said.
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