Latest data from Iata showed that domestic travel demand had improved in April 2021 compared with the prior month, although it remained well below pre-pandemic levels.
Recovery in international passenger travel continued to be stalled in the face of government-imposed travel restrictions.
- Total demand for air travel in April 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down 65.4% compared with April 2019. That was an improvement over the 66.9% decline recorded in March 2021 versus March 2019. The better performance was driven by gains in most domestic markets.
- International passenger demand in April was 87.3% below April 2019, little changed from the 87.8% decline recorded in March 2021 versus two years ago.
- Total domestic demand was down 25.7% versus pre-crisis levels (April 2019), much improved over March 2021 when domestic traffic was down 31.6% versus the 2019 period. As with March, all markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared with March 2021, with both China and Russia reporting traffic growth compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.
“The continuing strong recovery in domestic markets tells us that when people are given the freedom to fly, they take advantage of it. Unfortunately, that freedom still does not exist in most international markets. When it does, I’m confident we will see a similar resurgence in demand,” said Iata Director General, Willie Walsh.
The African picture
African airlines’ traffic fell 78.3% in April versus April 2019, marking a significant deterioration compared with a 73.7% decline recorded in March compared with March 2019.
April capacity contracted 64.0% versus April 2019, and load factors fell 29.1 percentage points to 43.9%.
Targeted approach needed
Walsh reiterated the global demand for travel, particularly as the Northern hemisphere enters its peak season. “But for that to happen safely and efficiently amid the COVID-19 crisis, a more targeted approach is needed.”
Walsh said most government policies today defaulted to the closing of borders.
“After a year-and-a-half of COVID-19, there is sufficient data for governments to manage the risks of COVID-19 without blanket travel bans. We have, for example, strong indications from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Koch Institute and others, that vaccinated travellers pose very little risk to the local population,” said Walsh.
He added that data showed that pre-departure testing largely removed the risk of unvaccinated travellers importing COVID.
“Last week we teamed-up with Airbus and Boeing to demonstrate potential methodologies to manage the risks of COVID-19 to keep populations safe while restarting global connectivity.
“Governments are naturally risk-averse, but successfully managing risk is aviation’s bread and butter. With indications that COVID-19 is becoming endemic, governments and industry must work together to rebuild global connectivity while managing the associated risks. Leadership by the G7 to move in this direction would be a major step forward. Safely restoring travel freedom and reconnecting countries will drive economic growth and job creation,” said Walsh.
Iata noted that because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise highlighted, all comparisons are to April 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.