As fear over the coronavirus mounted and infections climbed worldwide, the global air passenger traffic slipped by 65.9% in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a leading trade group.
This is the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in a statement on Wednesday.
The international passenger demand decreased 75.6% year-on-year in 2020. The capacity measured in available seat kilometers on international routes declined 68.1% and load factor fell 19.2 percentage points to 62.8%.
Domestic demand fell at a slower pace last year, down 48.8% compared to 2019. Capacity on domestic flights contracted 35.7% and load factor dropped 17 percentage points to 66.6% during the same period.
Data also showed that bookings for future travel made in January 2021 were down 70% on an annual basis, putting further pressure on airline cash positions and potentially impacting the timing of the expected recovery.
Touching on expectation for 2021, the IATA said overall demand is projected to improve 50.4% from last year which would bring the industry to 50.6% of 2019 levels.
However, if more severe travel restrictions in response to new variants persist, demand improvement could be limited to just 13% over 2020 levels, leaving the industry at 38% of 2019 levels, it warned.
“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, the IATA director general and CEO.