The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said air passenger traffic fell in January, both compared to pre-Covid levels (January 2019) and compared to the immediate month prior (December 2020).

Total demand in January 2021 measured in revenue passenger kilometres was down by 72 percent compared to January 2019. That was worse than the 69.7 percent year-over-year decline recorded in December 2020.

Total domestic demand was down 47.4 percent versus pre-crisis (January 2019) levels. In December it was down by 42.9 percent on the previous year.

IATA said this weakening is largely driven by stricter domestic travel controls in China over the Lunar New Year holiday period.

International passenger demand in January was 85.6 percent below January 2019, a further drop compared to the 85.3 percent year-to-year decline recorded in December.

“2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot. Even as vaccination programmes gather pace, new Covid variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

“The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Forward bookings in February this year for the northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78 percent below levels in February 2019,” he said.

Asia Pacific airlines’ January traffic plummeted by 94.6 percent compared to the 2019 period, virtually unchanged from the 94.4 percent decline registered for December 2020 compared to a year ago.

The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for a seventh consecutive month. Capacity dropped by 86.5 percent and load factor sank 49.4 percentage points to 32.6 percent, by far the lowest among regions.
“To say that 2021 has not gotten off to a good start is an understatement. Financial prospects for the year are worsening as governments tighten travel restrictions,” said de Juniac.

“We now expect the industry to burn through 75 billion to 95 billion dollars in cash this year, rather than turning cash positive in the fourth quarter as previously thought. This is not something that the industry will be able to endure without additional relief measures from governments.”