GENEVA, 4 October 2021: Air travel recovery decelerated in
August compared to July, as government actions in response to concerns over the
Covid-19 Delta variant cut deeply into domestic travel demand, the
International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported at the weekend.

Because
comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the
extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted, all comparisons are
to August 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

  • Total demand for air travel in August 2021 (measured in revenue
    passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down 56.0% compared to August 2019. This
    marked a slowdown from July, when demand was 53.0% below July 2019 levels. 
  • This was entirely driven by domestic markets, which were down 32.2%
    compared to August 2019, a significant deterioration from July 2021, when
    traffic was down 16.1% versus two years ago. The worst impact was in China,
    while India and Russia were the only large markets to show a month-to-month
    improvement compared to July 2021.
  • International passenger demand in August was 68.8% below August 2019,
    which was an improvement compared to the 73.1% decline recorded in July. All
    regions showed improvement, which was attributable to growing vaccination rates
    and less stringent international travel restrictions in some regions.

“August results reflect the impact of concerns over the Delta
variant on domestic travel, even as international travel continued on a snail’s
pace toward a full recovery that cannot happen until governments restore the
freedom to travel. In that regard, the recent US announcement to lift travel
restrictions from early November on fully vaccinated travellers is very good
news and will bring certainty to a key market. But challenges remain; September
bookings indicate a deterioration in the global recovery. That’s bad news
heading into the traditionally slower fourth quarter,” said IATA’s
director-general Willie Walsh.

International
Passenger Markets

European
carriers’
Augustinternational traffic
declined 55.9% versus August 2019, significantly bettering the 63.2% decrease
in July compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 45.0%, and load
factor fell 17.7 percentage points to 71.5%.

Asia-Pacific
airlines
saw theirAugust international
traffic fall 93.4% compared to August 2019, barely improved over the 94.5% drop
registered in July 2021 versus July 2019 as the region continues to have the
strictest border control measures. Capacity dropped 85.7%, and the load factor
was down 44.9 percentage points to 37.9%, by far the lowest among regions.

Middle Eastern
airlines
had a69.3% demand drop in
August compared to August 2019, improved upon the 73.6% decrease in July versus
the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 55.0%, and load factor deteriorated
26.2 percentage points to 56.2%.

North American
carriers
experienceda 59.0%
traffic drop in August versus the 2019 period, much improved on the 61.7%
decline in July compared to July 2019. Capacity sank 48.5%, and load factor dipped
18.0 percentage points to 70.3%.

Latin American
airlines
saw a 63.1% drop in August traffic, compared to the same month in
2019, improved over the 68.3% decline in July compared to July 2019. August
capacity fell 57.3%, and the load factor dropped 11.4 percentage points to
72.6%, which was the highest load factor among the regions for the eleventh
consecutive month.

African airlines’
traffic fell
58.5% in August versus two years ago, somewhat improved over the 60.4% decline
in July compared to July 2019. August capacity was down 50.1%, and load factor
declined 12.7% to 63.0%.

Domestic
Passenger Markets

China’s domestic traffic
dropped 57.0% compared to August 2019 – a huge deterioration from the 2.5% fall
in July. However, overall cases were low, and outbreaks were mostly under
control by the end of August, suggesting numbers will improve in September.

India’s domestic traffic
reversed the trend, as demand fell 44.8% in August, improved from a 58.9%
decline in July versus July 2019, owing to positive trends in new cases and
vaccination.

The Bottom Line

“The rapid slowdown in the domestic traffic recovery in August,
owing to a spike in the Delta variant, shows how exposed air travel continues
to be to the cycles of COVID-19. For governments that should send two messages.
The first is that this is not the time to step away from continuing support of
the industry, both financial and regulatory. The second is the need to apply a
risk-based approach to managing borders–as passengers are already doing in
making their travel decisions,” said Walsh.

Next week, leaders of the global aviation community will gather in Boston at the 77th IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit, 3-5 October.

“The AGM provides a powerful vote of confidence in the safety of international air travel and the health protocols that have now been in place for up to 18 months. I’ve said it before: virtual meetings are no substitute for the value delivered through the opportunity to meet face-to-face. The AGM will provide a powerful reminder of this fact,” said Walsh.