International air travel demand still weak despite positive Covid-19 vaccine news

Passenger demand between countries was down 87.8% in October on the same month last year

International travel remains exceptionally weak despite positive news on vaccine development. Toby Melville / Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Demand for air travel remains weak despite positive news on vaccine development, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Global pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca have achieved major breakthroughs in developing a vaccine for the treatment of coronavirus in recent weeks with an efficacy rate of more than 90 per cent. The UK has already begun rolling out the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Tuesday.

However, air travel demand in most international markets "remained exceptionally weak and [are showing] very little recovery with quarantines in place”, Brian Pearce, Iata’s chief economist, said during a media briefing on Tuesday. “Vaccine news has not yet transformed travel intentions.”

There has been some growth in travel between North and Central America due to testing regimes put in place by the Central American countries. The easing of UK quarantine requirements with some countries also led to an increase in bookings, Iata said. Bookings on UK-US routes have doubled after policy change announced by the UK government on November 23.

"The 14 day quarantine is like a travel ban," Mr Pearce said.

Overall, international passenger demand in October was 87.8 per cent lower than in the same month last year and remains virtually unchanged from the 88 per cent year-on-year decline recorded in September, according to Iata.

Domestic air travel demand was down 40.8 per cent year-on-year in October - a marginal improvement on a 43 per cent decline in September.

“Fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 and governments’ continued reliance on heavy-handed quarantines resulted in another catastrophic month for air travel demand,” Alexandre de Juniac, Iata’s director general and chief executive, said.

“While the pace of recovery is faster in some regions than others, the overall picture for international travel is grim. This uneven recovery is more pronounced in domestic markets, with China’s domestic market having nearly recovered, while most others remain deeply depressed.”

Asia-Pacific airlines’ October traffic collapsed 95.6 per cent compared to the prior year period, while European carriers saw demand sink 83 per cent.

Airlines in the Middle East posted an 86.7 per cent traffic decline for October, an improvement from an 89.3 per cent demand decline in September.

North American carriers’ traffic tumbled 88.2 per cent in October, a slight improvement from a 91 per cent decline in September, while Latin American airlines experienced an 86 per cent demand decline. African airlines’ traffic sank 78.6 per cent.

“The $173 billion of support provided to date has enabled the industry to survive, but more is required to carry the industry through to next summer. Iata has identified a range of market stimulation options that will support the viability of air routes while encouraging people to travel,” Mr de Juniac, added.