The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that air travel is still struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, with demand still significantly below pre-Covid-19 levels because of international travel restrictions. Passenger demand performance for June 2021 is showing only a very slight improvement in both international and domestic air travel markets.
1. Summer 2019 versus summer 2021
Whilst June 2019 followed a normal demand pattern, when compared with June 2021 it is clear the the industry is still suffering. Total demand for air travel (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) in June 2021 was down 60.1% compared to June 2019, a small improvement over the 62.9% decline recorded in May 2021 versus May 2019. Meanwhile international demand in June 2021 was 80.9% below June 2019, an improvement from the 85.4% decline recorded in May 2021 versus two years ago. All regions with the exception of Asia-Pacific contributed to the slightly higher demand. Total domestic demand was down 22.4% versus pre-crisis levels in June 2019, a slight gain over the 23.7% decline recorded in May 2021 versus the 2019 period. The performance across key domestic markets was mixed with Russia reporting robust expansion while China returned to negative territory.
We are seeing movement in the right direction, particularly in some key domestic markets. But the situation for international travel is nowhere near where we need to be. June should be the start of peak season, but airlines were carrying just 20% of 2019 levels. That’s not a recovery, it’s a continuing crisis caused by government inaction.Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.
2. International Passenger Markets
Looking at international air traffic, Asia-Pacific airlines’ June international traffic fell 94.6% compared to June 2019, unchanged from the 94.5% May comparison and the region had the steepest traffic declines for an eleventh consecutive month. European carriers saw their June international traffic decline 77.4% versus June 2019, a gain from the 85.5% decrease in the May comparison, whilst Middle Eastern airlines posted a 79.4% demand drop in June compared to June 2019, improving from the 81.3% decrease in May, versus the same month in 2019. North American carriers’ June demand fell 69.6% compared to the 2019 period, improving from the 74.2% decline in May versus two years ago and Latin American airlines saw a 69.4% drop in June traffic compared to the same month in 2019, improved over the 75.3% decline in May compared to May 2019. African airlines’ traffic decreased 68.2% in June versus the same month two years ago, an improvement from the 71.5% decline in May compared to May 2019.
3. Domestic Passenger Markets
Regarding domestic traffic, China’s domestic traffic returned to negative territory in June, declining 10.8% compared to June 2019, following a 6.3% growth in May versus the same period in 2019. New restrictions had been introduced following a COVID-19 outbreak in several Chinese cities. US domestic traffic improved from a 25.4% decline in May versus the same month in 2019, to a 14.9% decline in June. Life in the US was starting to see some normalcy following the easing of measures and the rapid rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination.
4. Summer air travel continues to be disappointing
Walsh explained that the the hope of seeing a significant revival in international traffic during the Northern Hemisphere summer is getting increasingly unlikely. He stated that “many governments are not following the data or the science to restore the basic freedom of movement. Despite growing numbers of vaccinated people and improved testing capacity, we are very close to losing another peak summer season on the important trans-Atlantic market.” He also criticised the UK’s “flip-flop to reinstate quarantine for vaccinated arrivals from France”, calling it “the kind of policy development that destroys consumer confidence when it is most needed”.
Speaking about moving forwards, Walsh said, “A risk-managed re-connecting of the world is what we need. Vaccinated travellers should have their freedom of movement returned. An efficient testing regime can sufficiently manage risks for those unable to be vaccinated. This is the underlying message in the latest WHO travel guidance.” He highlighted that some countries, including the UK, Singapore and Canada, which have indicated timelines to open their borders without quarantine for vaccinated travellers, whilst the European Commission has recommended that its member states adopt travel protocols that are closely aligned with the WHO—including testing for unvaccinated travellers. He said that if the US, who are leaders in vaccinating their populations, would make similar moves to re-open borders in line with the WHO guidance by the US, this would give critical impetus to demonstrating that we can live and travel while managing the risks of COVID-19.