March disastrous month for aviation industry, says global transport body

The International Air Transport Association says the aviation industry must reassure governments that aviation will not be a vector in the spread of the disease.

KUALA LUMPUR: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has described the month of March as disastrous for the aviation industry as demand, which is measured in total revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), dived 52.9% compared to the year-ago period.

This was the largest decline in recent history, reflecting the impact of government actions to slow the spread of Covid-19, said IATA, which represents 290 airlines, comprising 82% of global air traffic.

In seasonally adjusted terms, global passenger volumes returned to levels last seen in 2006.

March capacity for available seat kilometres (ASKs) fell by 36.2% and load factor plummeted 21.4 percentage points to 60.6%, it said in a statement here today.

“March was a disastrous month for aviation. Airlines progressively felt the growing impact of the Covid-19-related border closings and restrictions on mobility, including in domestic markets.

“Demand was at the same level it was in 2006 but we have the fleets and employees for double that.

“Worse, we know that the situation deteriorated even more in April and most signs point to a slow recovery,” IATA director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said.

March international passenger demand shrank 55.8% compared with March 2019.

That is much worse than the 10.3% year-to-year decline in February. All regions recorded double-digit percentage traffic declines. Capacity tumbled 42.8%, and load factor plunged 18.4 percentage points to 62.5%, said IATA.

“Asia-Pacific airlines led the decliners, as March traffic dropped 65.5% compared to the year-ago period, which was more than double the 30.7% decline in February.

“Capacity fell 51.4% and load factor collapsed 23.4 percentage points to 57.1%,” it said.

Demand for domestic travel shrank 47.8% in March compared to March 2019 with double-digit percentage declines in all markets.

This compared to a 21.3% year-to-year decline in February. Capacity fell 24.5% and load factor plunged 26.0 percentage points to 58.1%.

IATA said Chinese airlines continued to see the steepest declines, with domestic demand down 65.5% in March compared to March 2019. This, however, was an improvement over the 85% year-to-year decline in February as the country began to re-open domestic air travel.

Japan’s airlines recorded a 55.8% year-over-year decline in domestic RPKs, despite not implementing any widespread lockdown.

“The industry is in free fall and we have not hit bottom (yet). But there will come a time — soon, I hope –when authorities will be ready to begin easing restrictions on mobility and opening borders. It is imperative that governments work with the industry now to prepare for that day,” de Juniac said.

He said it is the only way to ensure that the aviation industry has measures in place to keep passengers safe during travel and reassure governments that aviation will not be a vector in the spread of the disease.

“We must also avoid the confusion and complexity that followed 9.11. Global standards that are mutually accepted and operationally practicable will be mission-critical to achieving this. The only way to get there is by working together,” he opined.

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