IATA figures show pandemic’s toll on air travel

IATA has released the World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) publication with performance figures for 2020, demonstrating the devastating effects on global air transport due to the Covid-19 crisis. The main findings are as follows:

  • 1.8 billion passengers flew in 2020, a decrease of 60.2 per cent compared to the 4.5 billion who flew in 2019
  • Industry-wide air travel demand (measured in revenue passenger-kilometres, or RPKs) dropped by 65.9 per cent year-on-year
  • International passenger demand (RPKs) decreased by 75.6 per cent compared to the year prior
  • Domestic air passenger demand (RPKs) dropped by 48.8 per cent compared to 2019
  • Air connectivity declined by more than half in 2020 with the number of routes connecting airports falling dramatically at the outset of the crisis and was down more than 60 per cent year-on-year in April 2020
  • Total industry passenger revenues fell by 69 per cent to $189 billion in 2020, and net losses were $126.4 billion in total
  • The decline in air passengers transported in 2020 was the largest recorded since global RPKs started being tracked around 1950

“2020 was a year that we’d all like to forget. But analysing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance. At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66 per cent of the world’s commercial air transport fleet was grounded as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines. A million jobs disappeared. And industry losses for the year totalled $126 billion”, said IATA director general Willie Walsh.

“Many governments recognized aviation’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support. But it was the rapid actions by airlines and the commitment of our people that saw the airline industry through the most difficult year in its history.”

Key 2020 airline performance figures from WATS:


  • Systemwide, airlines carried 1.8 billion passengers on scheduled services, a decrease of 60.2 per cent over 2019
  • On average, there was a $71.7 loss incurred per passenger in 2020, corresponding to net losses of $126.4 billion in total
  • Measured in ASKs (available seat kilometres), global airline capacity plummeted by 56.7 per cent, with international capacity being hit the hardest with a reduction of 68.3 per cent
  • Systemwide passenger load factor dropped to 65.1 per cent in 2020, compared to 82.5 per cent the year prior
  • The Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic with a drop of 71.5 per cent in RPKs versus 2019, followed by Europe (-69.7 per cent) and the Africa region (-68.5 per cent)
  • China became the largest domestic market in 2020 for the first time on record, as air travel rebounded faster in their domestic market following their efforts to control COVID-19

The regional rankings (based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines registered in that region) are:

    1. Asia-Pacific: 780.7 million passengers, a decrease of 53.4 per cent compared to the region’s passengers in 2019
    2. North America: 401.7 million passengers, down 60.8 per cent over 2019
    3. Europe: 389.9 million passengers, down 67.4 per cent over 2019
    4. Latin America: 123.6 million passengers, down 60.6 per cent over 2019
    5. Middle East: 76.8 million passengers, a decrease of 67.6 per cent over 2019
    6. Africa: 34.3 million passengers, down 65.7 per cent over 2019

In July, IATA blasted the “extortionate” cost of Covid-19 testing in many jurisdictions and the wildly disproportionate focus on testing when travelling internationally in relation to the actual threat level.

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