International Air Traffic Founders as Covid Rates Surge

 - July 1, 2020, 1:47 PM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The increasing number of cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and the developing world will likely result in a less robust airline recovery this year than that projected by the International Air Transport Association as recently as a month ago, IATA officials said Wednesday during the group’s weekly briefing on the effects of the novel coronavirus on the air transport industry. About half of emerging markets have seen an increase in cases in June and, along with the U.S., they account for 37 percent of global revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), noted IATA chief economist Brian Pearce. Meanwhile, travel between the U.S. and Europe, including the UK, accounts for 5 percent of global revenues, which Pearce called “significant,” particularly for European airlines whose reliance on still stagnant transatlantic travel have seen their international networks crippled.

Continuing restrictions on travel across borders continue to hinder recovery as well, said Pearce, who reported a rather modest improvement in RPKs flown in May compared with April, when the association recorded a 94 percent decline in RPKs compared with the same month a year earlier. May’s figures showed a 91.3 percent drop compared with the same month in 2019, thanks mainly to increases in domestic flying.

International flying, as expected, continued to founder during the month, as May passenger demand fell 98.3 percent compared with May 2019. That figure barely changed from April, which saw a 98.4 percent decline from the previous year. Capacity plummeted 95.3 percent, and load factor sank 51.9 percentage points to 28.6 percent, meaning passengers filled barely a quarter of all seats.

Domestic traffic, however, did see a modest improvement from April to May, which saw a 79.2 percent fall in RPKs compared with the same month a year earlier. Airlines registered an 86.2 percent RPK decline in April. Domestic capacity fell 69.2 percent and load factor dropped 27.2 points to 56.9 percent. 

“May was not quite as terrible as April,” noted IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “That’s about the best thing that can be said. As predicted, the first improvements in passenger demand are occurring in domestic markets. International traffic remained virtually stopped in May. We are only at the very beginning of a long and difficult recovery. And there is tremendous uncertainty about what impact a resurgence of new Covid-19 cases in key markets could have.” 

De Juniac also chided governments for policies he characterized as impediments to the recovery. “Governments also need to avoid adding blockers to the recovery, such as implementing entry quarantine,” he said. “They have the same impact as outright travel bans and will keep economies closed down to the benefits of aviation connectivity.”