Official data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) exposes the devastating impact of Covid-19 on global air transport during 2020.
At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66% 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 totaled $126 billionWillie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
1. Air passengers drop 60%
In a nutshell, IATA’s World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) estimated a global decrease of 60.2% in the number of passengers who flew in 2020. In total 1.8 billion passengers air travelled in 2020, compared to the 4.5 billion who flew in 2019.
Measured available seat kilometers (ASK) reveals global airline capacity plummeted by 56.7%, with international capacity being hit the hardest with a reduction of 68.3%.
The figures also show that international passenger demand went down by 75.6% compared to 2019 while domestic air passenger demand dropped by 48.8%.
Geographically, the Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic with a drop of 71.5%, compared to 2019, followed by Europe (-69.7%) and the Africa region (-68.5%).
The decline in air passengers transported in 2020 was the largest recorded since global RPK started being tracked around 1950.
3. Industry’s overview
Overall, air connectivity declined by more than half in 2020 with the number of routes connecting airports falling dramatically at the outset of the crisis.
Total industry passenger revenues fell by 69% to $189 billion in 2020, and net losses were $126.4 billion in total.
According to IATA’s data, Star Alliance maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2020 with 18.7% of total scheduled traffic (in RPKs). SkyTeam (16.3%) was the second best performing airline followed by oneworld (12.7%).
The top two routes with the higher volume of traffic were Asia-Pacific and North America, followed by Europe. As for airlines, the most requested were America Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Delta Airlines.
Americans, Brits and Germans were the top three nationalities travelling by air in 2020.
4. Cargo’s resilience
Despite the turbulence, air freight was the bright spot in air transport for 2020 — down 9.1% compared to 2019, WATS revealed.
During the confinement months, the market adapted to keep goods moving — including vaccines, personal protective equipment (PPE) and vital medical supplies.
The top five airlines ranked by scheduled cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) flown were Federal Express, United Parcel Service, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Cathway Pacific Airways.
5. A “story of perseverance”
No matter how hard the storm, Walsh said the WATS’ figures reveal an “amazing story of perseverance”.
“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,” the IATA’s Director-General said.
IATA represents some 290 airlines comprising 82% of global air traffic.