By Edward Robertson
Passenger traffic numbers have continued to fall in 2021, according to new data released by IATA.
Total demand for air travel in February measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) fell by 74.1 per cent compared to February 2019 before Covid-19 struck.
The figure was even worse when compared to the 72.2 per cent drop in RPKs seen in January 2021, compared to two years earlier.
Unsurprisingly, international travel was hit even harder with passenger demand down by 88.7 per cent for February compared to two years previously.
Again, this figure was also worse than the 85.7 per cent drop in international RPKs experienced in January 2021, compared to 2019, and was the lowest it has been since July 2020.
Meanwhile, domestic demand also fell by 51 per cent, more than the 47.8 per cent seen in January.
IATA director general Willie Walsh said: “February showed no indication of a recovery in demand for international air travel. In fact, most indicators went in the wrong direction as travel restrictions tightened in the face of continuing concerns over new coronavirus variants.
“An important exception was the Australian domestic market. A relaxation of restrictions on domestic flying resulted in significantly more travel. This tells us that people have not lost their desire travel.
“They will fly, provided they can do so without facing quarantine measures.”
As for the regions overall, Europe was the worst hit in February with a reduction of 82.8 per cent in demand followed by the Middle East on 81.7 per cent, Asia Pacific on 74.9 per cent, North America and Africa both seeing 66.1 per cent and Latin America least-worst affected on 62.4 per cent.
When it comes to international passenger markets in February, Asia Pacific remains worst hit, with a fall of 95.2 per cent, while Europe is second with 89 per cent.
This was followed by Latin America on 83.5 per cent, the Middle East and North America, both on 83.1 per cent, while Africa was least impacted at 68 per cent.
Walsh urged governments around the world to do more to get people flying, especially with vaccination programmes rolling out around the world.
He added: “The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated that vaccinated individuals can travel safely. That is good news.
“We have also recently seen Oxera-Edge Health research highlighting the efficacy of fast, accurate and affordable rapid tests for Covid-19. These developments should reassure governments that there are ways to efficiently manage the risks of Covid-19 without relying on demand-killing quarantine measures and/or expensive and time-consuming PCR testing.
“Two key components for an efficient restart of travel need to be urgently progressed. The first is the development of global standards for digital COVID-19 test and/or vaccination certificates. The second is government agreement to accept certificates digitally.
“Our experiences to date already demonstrate that paper-based systems are not a sustainable option. They are vulnerable to fraud. And, even with the limited amount of flying today, the check-in process needs pre-Covid-19 staffing levels just to handle the paperwork. Paper processes will not be sustainable when travel ramps up.
“The IATA Travel Pass app was developed precisely in anticipation of this need to manage health credentials digitally. Its first full implementation trial is focused on Singapore, where the government has already announced that it will accept health certificates through the app.
“This will be an essential consideration for all governments when they are ready to relink their economies with the world through air travel.”