Global passenger demand continues to drop amid Covid-19 restrictions

May passenger demand shows slight improvement compared to April as countries ease restrictions

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac attends an interview with Reuters on the consequences of the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Geneva, Switzerland, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
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Global passenger demand for air travel continues to slump, amid border closures and government-enforced restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Air Transport Association said.

There was a mild uptick in passenger demand in May (measured in total revenue passenger kilometres, or RPKs). Demand fell 91.3 per cent in May from the year earlier period, and was a mild improvement on the 94 per cent decline recorded in April, Iata said in its latest report on Wednesday.

The slight improvement was driven by a measured recovery in some domestic markets, as countries ease restrictions on movement.

“May was not quite as terrible as April. That’s about the best thing that can be said," Alexandre de Juniac, Iata’s director general and chief executive, said. "As predicted, the first improvements in passenger demand are occurring in domestic markets. International traffic remained virtually stopped in May.”

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the global travel and tourism industry to a grinding halt and tipped the global economy into a recession, expected to be the deepest since the Great Depression, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The global economy is set to contract 4.9 per cent this year, the fund said. The tourism industry stands to lose up to $3.3 trillion (Dh12tn) globally as the Covid-19 pandemic cripples international travel, with developing countries suffering the biggest hit, according to the United Nations.

“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,” Mr de Juniac added.

May international passenger demand fell 98.3 per cent year-on-year and was virtually unchanged from the 98.4 per cent decline recorded in April, according to Iata. All regions recorded a double-digit percentage traffic declines, as capacity tumbled 95.3 per cent and the average load factor plunged 51.9 percentage points to 28.6 per cent.

Airlines in Europe saw the biggest drop in May traffic, registering a 98.7 per cent decline from a year-earlier. Capacity dropped 97.5 per cent and load factor collapsed to 42.4 per cent.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 98 per cent traffic contraction for May, after shrinking 97.3 per cent in April. Capacity tumbled 93.9 percent, and load factor dropped to 23.9 per cent.

North American carriers saw a 98.2 per cent traffic decline in May, little changed from a 98.4 per cent decline in April, while Asia-Pacific airlines’ May traffic plunged 98 per cent compared to the year-ago period.

Carriers in Latin America registered a 98.1 per cent drop in traffic, while African airlines’ traffic fell 98.2 per cent for the same period.

“Governments also need to avoid adding blockers to the recovery, such as implementing entry quarantines," Mr de Juniac said. "They have the same impact as outright travel bans and will keep economies closed down to the benefits of aviation connectivity.”