Passenger traffic fell in JAN 2021, both compared to pre-COVID levels (JAN 2019) and compared to the immediate month prior (DEC 2020), shows the latest data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
“2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new COVID variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions. The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Forward bookings in February this year for the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78 per cent below levels in February 2019.”
In Canada, the federal government’s new COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules for international air travellers have had a severely damaging effect on the already-low travel demand, data from Canada Border Services Agency shows.
In the last two weeks of JAN 2021, international arrivals fell to 106,000 people, and in the first two weeks of FEB, the figure fell further to 94,000 people, Canadian Press reports. The drop in international arrivals in early FEB is about four times the decline seen between early JAN, and early FEB in 2019 and 2020.
In its own report, IATA compared monthly results between JAN 2021 and JAN 2019, as comparisons between 2021 and 2020 are distorted by the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
- Total demand in JAN 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 72 per cent compared to JAN 2019. That was worse than the 69.7 per cent year-over-year decline recorded in DEC 2020.
- Total domestic demand in JAN 2021 was down 47.4 per cent versus pre-crisis levels. In DEC, it was down 42.9 per cent. This weakening is largely driven by stricter domestic travel controls in China over the Lunar New Year holiday period.
- International passenger demand in JAN was 85.6 per cent below JAN 2019, a further drop compared to the 85.3 per cent year-to-year decline recorded in DEC.
- North American carriers’ JAN traffic fell 79 per cent compared to the 2019 period, up slightly from a 79.5 per cent decline in DEC year to year. Capacity sagged 60.5 per cent, and load factor dropped 37.8 percentage points to 42.9 pre cent.
“To say that 2021 has not gotten off to a good start is an understatement. Financial prospects for the year are worsening as governments tighten travel restrictions. We now expect the industry to burn through US$75-$95 billion in cash this year, rather than turning cash positive in the fourth quarter, as previously thought. This is not something that the industry will be able to endure without additional relief measures from governments,” de Juniac said.
Increased testing capability, vaccine distribution and global standards are critical for governments to unlock economic activity, including travel, de Juniac said.
The IATA head touted its Travel Pass, currently in development, as an effective means to help passengers and airlines manage traveller health credentials.
“We need a digital solution to manage health requirements. [Traditional check-in with paper documentation] can be a back-up. But unless we can get the majority of travellers processed electronically, we will not be able to handle a ramp-up of activity,” he said.
According to de Juniac, common standards are also needed to document both tests and vaccines.
“Temporarily, while volumes are low, we can accommodate digital certificates issued by governments that want an early start,” he said. “But long-term a global standard will give passengers and governments the greatest confidence and deliver the greatest efficiency.”
De Juniac also clarified several misconceptions about the IATA Travel Pass:
- IATA Travel Pass is not a vaccine passport. Initially it will hold test data, which governments are already requiring. It can also accommodate vaccine data, should governments require it.
- IATA is not asking for vaccination to be a requirement. It is governments, not airlines, that will decide what travellers need to enter their country, de Juniac said.