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IATA: Covid-19 Devastates Global Air Transport in 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic hit global air transport hardest in 2020 with the international airline industry describing it as the worst year on record.

According to statistics released this week by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the number of people who flew in 2020 dropped by 60.2 percent to 1.8 billion compared to 4.5 billion in 2019.

Air travel demand dropped by 65.9 percent year-on-year and international passenger demand decreased by 75.6 percent against a year earlier.

Domestic air passenger demand decreased by 48.8 percent over 2019 while air connectivity weakened by more than half in 2020.

Photo © European Union - EP / Dominique-Hommel

Photo © European Union – EP / Dominique-Hommel

Earlier this year, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals dropping by 74 percent.

In terms of revenues, total passenger returns fell by 69 percent to 189 billion dollars in 2020, with net losses amounting to 126.4 billion dollars in total.

According to IATA’s World Air Transport Statistics (WATS), the drop in the number of air passengers transported in 2020 is the largest recorded so far (based on RPKs) demonstrating the devastating effects of Covid on global air transport.

“The year 2020 was a year that we’d all like to forget. But analyzing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh.

IATA Director General Willie Walsh

“At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66 percent of the world’s commercial air transport fleet was grounded as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines. A million jobs disappeared. And industry losses for the year totalled 126 billion dollars. Many governments recognized aviation’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support. But it was the rapid actions by airlines and the commitment of our people that saw the airline industry through the most difficult year in its history,” Walsh added.

Other key takeaways from the report include:

– a 71.7-dollar loss incurred per passenger in 2020 corresponding to net losses of 126.4 billion dollars in total

global airline capacity plummeted by 56.7 percent, with international capacity down by 68.3 percent

– the Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic down by 71.5 percent over 2019, followed by Europe (-69.7 percent) and the Africa region (68.5 percent)

China became the largest domestic market in 2020 for the first time on record as air travel rebounded faster there

– top regional rankings based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines registered in that region were Asia-Pacific with 780.7 million passengers, followed by North America (401.7 million passengers), Europe (389.9 million passengers), Latin America (123.6 million passengers), the Middle East (76.8 million passengers), and Africa (34.3 million passengers).

– top five airlines ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometers flown, were American Airlines (124 billion), China Southern Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and China Eastern Airlines.

Photo Source: Delta Air Lines

– top five nationalities traveling by air (international) were: United States (45.7 million, or 9.7% of all passengers), UK (40.8 million), Germany (30.8 million), France (23.3 million), and India (17.4 million).

According to the report, air freight was the “bright spot” in air transport in 2020 with the market adapting to keep goods moving including vaccines, personal protective equipment and vital medical supplies despite the massive drop in capacity.

Industry-wide available cargo ton-km (ACTKs) fell 21.4 percent year-on-year in 2020.

The top five airlines ranked by scheduled cargo CTKs flown were: Federal Express, United Parcel Service, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Cathay Pacific Airways.

Meanwhile, Star Alliance maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2020 with 18.7 percent of total scheduled traffic, followed by SkyTeam (16.3 percent) and oneworld (12.7 percent).

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