International Passenger Demand in March 2021 Down 87.8% on March 2019

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(05 May 2021)
According to IATA, passenger traffic in March
2021 fell when compared to pre-COVID levels (March 2019), but rose compared
to the immediate month prior (February 2021).

Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly
results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID19,
unless otherwise noted all comparisons below are to March 2019, which
followed a normal demand pattern.

Total demand for air travel in March 2021, measured in revenue passenger kilometers
(RPKs), was down 67.2%
compared to March 2019. That was an improvement over the 74.9%
decline recorded in February 2021 versus February 2019. The better
performance was driven by gains in domestic markets, particularly
China. International traffic remained largely restricted.

International passenger demand in March was 87.8%
below March 2019, a very small improvement from the 89.0% decline
recorded in February 2021 versus two years ago.

Garuda Boeing 737 MAX 8 reg: PK-GMF in the foreground with Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 reg: 9V-SYF in the background. Picture by Steven Howard of Click to enlarge.

Total domestic demand was down 32.3% versus
pre-crisis levels (March 2019), greatly improved over February
2021, when domestic traffic was down 51.2% versus the 2019 period.
All markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared to
February 2021, with China being the key contributor, as already

“The positive momentum we saw in some key domestic
markets in March is an indication of the strong recovery we are
anticipating in international markets as travel restrictions are
lifted. People want and need to fly. And we can be optimistic that
they will do so when restrictions are removed,” said Willie Walsh,
IATA’s Director General.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ March international traffic
was down 94.8% compared to March 2019, barely better than the
95.4% decline registered in February 2021 versus February 2019.
The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines
for a ninth consecutive month. Capacity was down 87.0% and the
load factor sank 48.6 percentage points to 31.9%, the lowest among

European carriers recorded an 88.3% decline in
traffic in March versus March 2019, just slightly ahead of the
89.1% decline in February compared to the same month in 2019.
Capacity fell 80.0% and load factor fell by 35.0 percentage points
to 49.4%.

Middle Eastern airlines’ demand fell 81.6% in
March compared to March 2019, improved over an 83.1% demand drop
in February, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 67.2%,
and load factor declined 32.3 percentage points to 41.3%.

North American carriers saw March traffic sink
80.9% compared to the 2019 period, a gain compared to the 83.4%
decline in February compared to two years ago. Capacity sagged
62.6%, and load factor dropped 41.0 percentage points to 42.9%.

Latin American airlines experienced an 82.4%
demand drop in March, compared to the same month in 2019, a slight
improvement compared to the 83.7% decline in February compared to
February 2019. March capacity was down 77.4% compared to March
2019 and load factor dropped 18.1 percentage points to 63.6%,
highest among the regions for a sixth straight month.

African airlines’ traffic sank 73.7% in March
versus March two years ago, marking a deterioration compared to a
72.3% decline recorded in February compared to February 2019.
March capacity contracted 61.8% versus March 2019, and load factor
fell 22.3 percentage points to 49.0%.

Looking Ahead

“The emergence of new COVID19 variants and rising
cases in some countries are behind governments’ reluctance to lift
travel restrictions and quarantine,” said Walsh. “However, we are beginning to
see positive developments, such as the recent announcement by
European Commission President von der Leyen that vaccinated
travelers from the US will be allowed to enter the EU. At least 24
countries have already said they will welcome vaccinated
travelers. We expect this to continue and gather momentum as
vaccination numbers rise.

“However, governments should not rely only on
vaccinations, as it risks discriminating against those individuals
who are unable to get a vaccine for medical or other reasons, or
who lack access to vaccines—a common situation in much of the
world today. Affordable, timely and effective testing must be
available as an alternative to vaccines in facilitating travel.

“Furthermore, for as long as these health measures
are required, governments need to accept digital COVID19 test and
vaccination certificates and to follow global standards for
issuing their own vaccination certificates and test results. We
are already seeing intolerable waits at some airports, as
airlines, passengers and border control authorities are having to
rely on paper processes at a time when airports are no longer
designed to accommodate them.

IATA Travel Pass addresses this
challenge by enabling travelers to control and share their digital
vaccination certificate or test results with airlines and border
authorities, easing facilitation and reducing the risk of
fraudulent documents,” said Walsh.

See also:

What is the IATA Travel Pass, and what does it mean for
travellers, airlines and the global travel industry? Exclusive
video interview with Vinoop Goel

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