Aspac air traffic plunged 80% in 2020

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    Deserted. The empty counter of Cebu Pacific airline is pictured here in October 2020 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Reuters photo)

    Asia-Pacific airlines’ passenger traffic was down by 80 percent in 2020 as compared to the previous year which was the deepest decline for any region, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

    Asia-Pacific airlines, which contributed 38.6 percent of traffic globally, reported that full year capacity was down 74.1 percent compared to 2019. Load factor fell 19.5 percentage points to 61.4 percent.

    The traffic fell 94.7 percent in the month of December 2020, amid stricter lockdowns, little changed from a 95 percent decline in November.

    IATA said full-year global passenger traffic showed that demand (revenue passenger kilometers) fell by 65.9 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history.

    “Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it. What recovery there was over the Northern Hemisphere summer season stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season, as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of COVID-19,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director general and chief executive officer.

    Bookings for future travel made in January 2021 were down 70 percent compared to a year ago, putting further pressure on airline cash positions and potentially impacting the timing of the expected recovery.

    IATA’s baseline forecast for 2021 is for a 50.4 percent improvement on 2020 demand that would bring the industry to 50.6 percent of 2019 levels. While this view remains unchanged, there is a severe downside risk if more severe travel restrictions in response to new variants persist.

    “Optimism that the arrival and initial distribution of vaccines would lead to a prompt and orderly restoration in global air travel have been dashed in the face of new outbreaks and new mutations of the disease. The world is more locked down today than at virtually any point in the past 12 months and passengers face a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally uncoordinated travel restrictions,” de Juniac said.

    IATA urged governments to work with the industry to develop the standards for vaccination, testing and validation that will enable governments to have confidence that borders can reopen and international air travel can resume once the virus threat has been neutralized.

    In the meantime, “the airline industry will require continued financial support from governments in order to remain viable,” said de Juniac.

    For cargo operation, Asia-Pacific airlines reported a decline in demand of 15.2 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 and a fall in capacity of 27.4 percent.

    In December, airlines in the region posted a 3.9 percent decrease in international demand compared to the previous year. After a pause in recovery in the third quarter, demand is improving, driven by a rebound in manufacturing activity and export orders from China and South Korea. International capacity remained constrained in December, down 25.1 percent.

    “Air cargo is surviving the crisis in better shape than the passenger side of the business.

    For many airlines, 2020 saw air cargo become a vital source of revenues, despite weakened demand. But with much of the passenger fleet grounded, meeting demand without belly capacity continues to be an enormous challenge,” said de Juniac.

    “And, as countries strengthen travel restrictions in the face of new coronavirus variants, it is difficult to see improvements in passenger demand or the capacity crunch. 2021 will be another tough year,” he added.