GENEVA 27 November 2020: The International Air Transport
Association (IATA) released data this week that illustrates the devastating
impact of Covid-19 on international connectivity.

The pandemic disrupted airline connectivity as seen the
dramatic shifts in the annual rankings of the world’s most connected cities.

Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and New York all fell out
of the top 10 rankings for the first time, while Chinese cities took the top
four positions.

  • London, the world’s number one most connected city in September 2019,
    has seen a 67% decline in connectivity. By September 2020, it had fallen to
    number eight.
  • Shanghai is now the top-ranked city for connectivity with the top four
    most connected cities all in China—Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu.
  • New York (-66% fall in connectivity), Tokyo (-65%), Bangkok (-81%),
    Hong Kong (-81%) and Seoul (-69%) have all exited the top ten.
  • The study reveals that cities with large numbers of domestic
    connections now dominate, showing the extent of the international connectivity
    shut down.

“The dramatic shift in the connectivity rankings demonstrates the
scale at which the world’s connectivity has been re-ordered over the last
months. But the important point is that rankings did not shift because of any
improvement in connectivity. That declined overall in all markets. The rankings
shifted because the scale of the decline was greater for some cities than
others. There are no winners, just some players that suffered fewer injuries.
In a short period of time, we have undone a century of progress in bringing
people together and connecting markets. The message we must take from this
study is the urgent need to rebuild the global air transport network,”
said IATA’s senior vice president for external member relations, Sebastian
Mikosz.

IATA’s 76th Annual General Meeting called on governments to
safely re-open borders using testing. “The systematic testing of travellers is
the immediate solution to rebuilding the connectivity that we have lost. The
technology exists. The guidelines for implementation have been developed. Now
we need to implement before the damage to the global air transport network
becomes irreparable,” said Mikosz.

IATA’s air connectivity index measures how well connected a country’s
cities are to other cities around the world, which is critical for trade,
tourism, investment and other economic flows. It is a composite measure
reflecting the number of seats flown to the destinations served from a
country’s major airports and the economic importance of those destinations.

Covid -19 impacts by region

Africa suffered a 93%
decline in connectivity. Ethiopia managed to buck the trend. During the first
pandemic wave in April 2020, Ethiopia maintained connections with 88
international destinations. Many aviation markets reliant on tourism, such as
Egypt, South Africa and Morocco, were particularly severely impacted.

Asia-Pacific saw a 76% decline
in connectivity. Stronger domestic aviation markets, such as China, Japan and
South Korea performed better among the most connected countries in the region.
Despite the relatively large domestic aviation market, Thailand was severely
impacted perhaps because of the country’s high reliance on international
tourism.

Europe experienced a 93%
fall in connectivity. European countries saw significant declines across most
markets, although Russian connectivity has held up better than Western European
countries.

Middle East countries saw
connectivity decline by 88%. With the exception of Qatar, connectivity levels
reduced by more than 85% for the five most connected countries in the region.
Despite border closures, Qatar allowed passengers to transit between flights.
It was also an important hub for air cargo.

North American connectivity
declined 73%. Canada’s connectivity (-85% decline) was hit more heavily than
the United States (-72%). In part, this reflects the large domestic aviation
market in the United States, which, despite a significant passenger decline,
has continued to support connectivity.

Latin America suffered a 91%
collapse in connectivity. Mexico and Chile performed relatively better than the
other most connected countries, perhaps due to the timing of domestic lockdowns
in these countries and how strictly they were enforced.

Before the
pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the growth in air connectivity was a
global success story. Over the last two decades the number of cities directly
linked by air (city-pair connections) more than doubled while over the same
period, air travel costs fell by around half.

The top-ten most connected countries in the world mostly saw significant increases over the 2014-2019 period. The United States remained the most connected country, with a growth of 26%. China, in second place, grew connectivity by 62%. Other standout performers in the top ten included fourth-place India (+89%) and ninth-place Thailand (+62%).

View the IATA  connectivity study presentation