Impact is “only the tip of the iceberg” as airlines continue to face challenging conditions due to the outbreak.

Airlines are experiencing the worst decline in passenger traffic for 10 years as a result of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), according to the latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said the impact on air traffic was “only the tip of the iceberg” as COVID-19 continues to affect the air transport industry across the world.

Demand—measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs)—still increased year-on-year in January, but only by 2.4% compared to 4.6% year-on-year growth in December.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a global crisis that is testing the resilience not only of the airline industry but of the global economy

Not since the April 2010 volcanic ash cloud crisis in Europe, which caused widespread airspace closures and flight cancellations, have carriers seen a monthly increase as low.

Capacity—measured in available seat kilometers (ASKs)—increased by 1.7%, while load factor climbed 0.6 percentage point to 80.3%.

“January was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the traffic impacts we are seeing owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, given that major travel restrictions in China did not begin until 23 January. Nevertheless, it was still enough to cause our slowest traffic growth in nearly a decade,” said de Juniac.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is a global crisis that is testing the resilience not only of the airline industry but of the global economy. Airlines are experiencing double-digit declines in demand, and on many routes traffic has collapsed.”

Overall, January international passenger demand increased by 2.5% year-on-year, which was down from the 3.7% growth posted in December. Capacity grew by 0.9%, while load factor climbed 1.2 percentage points to 81.1%.

Airlines in Africa and the Middle East led the way in the regional markets, in part helped by the relatively low impact of the COVID-19 situation on routes in those regions.

  • For the full regional performance, click here
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