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Air Travel: February Showed No Indication of Recovery from Covid-19

Total demand for air passenger traffic fell in February 2021, both compared to pre-COVID levels (February 2019) and compared to the immediate month prior (January 2021), according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“February showed no indication of a recovery in demand for international air travel. In fact, most indicators went in the wrong direction as travel restrictions tightened in the face of continuing concerns over new coronavirus variants,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said during a recent media briefing.

The data released by IATA for February 2021 are comparisons to February 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern. The association noted that comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19).

According to data by IATA:

Global demand for air travel in February 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 74.7 percent compared to February 2019; worse than the 72.2 percent decline recorded in January 2021 versus two years ago.

Photo source: IATA

Photo source: IATA

International passenger demand in February was 88.7 percent below February 2019, a further drop from the 85.7 percent year-to-year decline recorded in January and the worst growth outcome since July 2020. Performance in all regions worsened compared to January 2021.
Total domestic demand was down 51 percent versus pre-crisis (February 2019) levels. In January it was down 47.8 percent on the 2019 period. This largely was owing to weakness in China travel, driven by government requests that citizens stay at home during the Lunar New Year travel period.

IATA noted that an important exception to the low passenger traffic numbers was the Australian domestic market.

“A relaxation of restrictions on domestic flying resulted in significantly more travel. This tells us that people have not lost their desire travel. They will fly, provided they can do so without facing quarantine measures,” Walsh said.

Two key components for efficient travel restart

Photo source: IATA

According to IATA’s director general, two key components for an efficient restart of travel need to be urgently progressed:

– the development of global standards for digital COVID-19 test and/or vaccination certificates
– government agreement to accept certificates digitally

On the second key component, Walsh said that paper processes will not be sustainable when travel ramps up.

“Our experiences to date already demonstrate that paper-based systems are not a sustainable option. They are vulnerable to fraud. And, even with the limited amount of flying today, the check-in process needs pre-COVID-19 staffing levels just to handle the paperwork,” Walsh said and referred,” Walsh said and referred to the IATA Travel Pass app that has been developed to manage health credentials digitally.

“Its first full implementation trial is focused on Singapore, where the government has already announced that it will accept health certificates through the app. This will be an essential consideration for all governments when they are ready to relink their economies with the world through air travel,” he added.

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