AviationAirline association chief warns governments that adding new regulatory or cost barriers to travel would stall fragile recovery

Slight uptick in May passenger traffic shows 'very early signs of recovery': IATA

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May airline passenger demand shows improvement, according to IATA.
May airline passenger demand shows improvement, according to IATA. Photo Credit: FTiare/Getty Images

Driven by recovery in some domestic markets, most notably China, passenger demand in May (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs), which dropped 91.3% from May 2019, shows a mild uptick from the 94% annual decline recorded in April 2020, according to data from The International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“May was not quite as terrible as April. 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," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

"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,” he added.

May international passenger demand fell 98.3% compared to May 2019, which was virtually unchanged from the 98.4% decline recorded in April. Capacity plummeted 95.3%, and load factor sank 51.9 percentage points to 28.6% meaning a bit more than a quarter of seats were filled, on average.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ May traffic plunged 98% compared to the year-ago period, also in line with a 98.2% recorded in April. Capacity fell 95.1% and load factor shrank 46.6 percentage points to 32.1%.

European carriers’ May demand contracted 98.7% compared to last year, virtually unchanged from a 98.9% drop in April, year-over-year, and the worst decline among regions. Capacity dropped 97.5% and load factor fell by 41.7 percentage points to 42.4%.

In other regions, Middle Eastern airlines posted a 98.0% traffic contraction for May, compared with a 97.3% demand drop in April. North American carriers had a 98.2% traffic decline in May, little changed from a 98.4% decline in April.

Meanwhile, IATA recorded a 79.2% drop in domestic traffic, which was an improvement compared to an 86.2% decline in April. Domestic capacity fell 69.2% and load factor dropped 27.2 percentage points to 56.9%.

China’s carriers posted a 49.9% year-on-year decline in traffic in May, significantly improved from the 64.6% demand drop recorded in April. However, the improvement has been more recently interrupted by flight cancellations to and from Beijing following the recent outbreak of new infections in the city.

US airlines’ domestic traffic was down 89.5% in May, an improvement over the 95.6% decline experienced in April. However, the recent rise in infection rates in key US states following the lifting of lockdown restrictions could negatively impact the budding recovery.

“We appear to be in the very early stages of a recovery in air travel. But the situation is fragile," said Mr de Juniac, urging governments to swiftly implement the International Civil Aviation Organization’s global guidelines for restoring air connectivity.

“Governments also need to avoid adding blockers to the recovery, such as implementing entry quarantines. They have the same impact as outright travel bans and will keep economies closed down to the benefits of aviation connectivity. Governments should also avoid new fees and charges to cover the cost of Covid-19 related health measures (such as testing and contact tracing), which will make travel less accessible," he continued.

"It is critical that governments don’t stall the fragile recovery by introducing new regulatory or cost barriers to travel,” stressed Mr de Juniac.

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