Domestic travel rises globally in March as international passenger traffic remains low

Global air cargo demand hits record high in March, Iata says

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Domestic travel rose month-on-month across all markets except in India and Brazil in March while international passenger traffic remained under pressure, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) said.

Total domestic demand was down 32.3 per cent in March 2021, compared to pre-crisis levels in March 2019. However, it improved from February 2021, when domestic traffic was down 51.2 per cent, Iata said in its monthly report. The biggest gains were driven by China.

Iata measures domestic passenger demand in markets such as Australia, China, Japan, Brazil, India and the US.

International passenger demand in March this year was 87.8 per cent below March 2019 but recorded a slight improvement from the 89 per cent decline in February 2021.

Travel demand was compared to the 2019 level since the last year was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Iata said.

Bookings in April and May were "pretty positive" for domestic travel while bookings for international journeys remained "exceptionally weak" as travel restrictions continued in many countries due to new cases of the Covid-19 virus, Iata chief economist Brian Pearce said.

The surge in domestic travel indicates that international markets will also recover once border restrictions are eased, Iata's director general Willie Walsh said.

"Once government restrictions are relaxed or removed, we will see a strong rebound in the second half of the year," he said.

Governments should give airlines an indication of their plans to remove restrictions so the operators can build their flight schedules, return furloughed staff and retrain their employees, which would allow them more time to prepare and maximise their recovery, he said.

Airlines in regions that rely on international markets, with few or no domestic flights, will recover slower than those with domestic business, Mr Pearce said.

Middle Eastern airlines’ recorded an 81.6 per cent drop in passenger travel demand in March compared to March 2019. Demand improved over an 83.1 per cent drop in February, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 67.2 per cent, and load factor declined 32.3 percentage points to 41.3 per cent, according to Iata.

Meanwhile, global air cargo demand hit record highs in March, Iata said.

Air freight demand rose 4.4 per cent in March, outperforming pre-Covid levels in March 2019, and reaching the highest level recorded since the series began in 1990.

Month-on-month demand also increased albeit at a slower pace with volumes up 0.4 per cent in March over February 2021 levels.

"“Air cargo continues to be the bright spot for aviation," Mr Walsh said. "And airlines are taking all measures to find the needed capacity."

Global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers, continued to recover in March, up 5.6 per cent compared to the previous month.

However despite this, capacity remains 11.7 per cent below pre-Covid levels in March 2019 due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft, Iata said.

Airlines continue to use dedicated freighters to plug the lack of available belly-capacity.

International capacity from dedicated freighters rose 20.6 per cent in March 2021 compared to the same month in 2019 and belly-cargo capacity of passenger aircraft dropped by 38.4 per cent, Iata said.