IATA figures show that total year 2020 demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) fell 65.9% compared with 2019, by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history. Furthermore, forward bookings have been falling sharply since late December.

• International passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6% below 2019 levels. Capacity, (measured in available seat kilometers or ASKs) declined 68.1% and the load factor fell 19.2 percentage points to 62.8%.

• Domestic demand in 2020 was down 48.8% compared with 2019. Capacity contracted 35.7% and the load factor dropped 17 percentage points to 66.6%.

• December 2020 total traffic was 69.7% below the same month in 2019, little improved from the 70.4% contraction in November. Capacity was down 56.7% and the load factor fell 24.6 percentage points to 57.5%.

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

• IATA’s baseline forecast for 2021 is for a 50.4% improvement on 2020 demand that would bring the industry to 50.6% 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. Should such a scenario materialize, demand improvement could be limited to just 13% over 2020 levels, leaving the industry at 38% of 2019 levels.

“Last year was a catastrophe,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “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.” The world continues to be locked down and passengers face a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally uncoordinated travel restrictions.

“We urge governments to work with 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,” said de Juniac. “The IATA Travel Pass will help this process, by providing passengers with an app to easily and securely manage their travel in line with any government requirements for COVID-19 testing or vaccine information. In the meantime, the airline industry will require continued financial support from governments to remain viable.”

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