GENEVA 10 May 2021: The International Air Transport
Association (IATA) announced that passenger traffic fell in March 2021 compared
to pre-Covid levels during March 2019 but rose compared to the immediate month
prior (February 2021).

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

Total demand for air travel in March 2021 (measured in
revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down 67.2% compared to March 2019.
That was an improvement over the 74.9% decline recorded in February 2021 versus
February 2019. The better performance was driven by gains in domestic markets,
particularly China. International traffic remained largely restricted.

International passenger demand in March was 87.8% below
March 2019, a very small improvement from the 89.0% decline recorded in
February 2021 versus two years ago.

Total domestic demand was down 32.3% versus pre-crisis
levels (March 2019), greatly improved over February 2021, when domestic traffic
was down 51.2% versus the 2019 period. All markets except Brazil and India
showed improvement compared to February 2021, with China being the key
contributor, as already noted.

“The positive momentum we saw in some key domestic markets
in March is an indication of the strong recovery we are anticipating in
international markets as travel restrictions are lifted. People want and need
to fly. And we can be optimistic that they will do so when restrictions are removed,”
said IATA’s director-general Willie Walsh.

Passenger Markets

March international traffic was down 94.8% compared to March 2019,
barely better than the 95.4% decline registered in February 2021 versus February
2019. The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for a
ninth consecutive month. Capacity was down 87.0%, and the load factor sank 48.6
percentage points to 31.9%, the lowest among regions.

European carriers
recorded an 88.3%
decline in traffic in March versus March 2019, just slightly ahead of the 89.1%
decline in February compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 80%, and
load factor fell by 35.0 percentage points to 49.4%.

Middle Eastern
demand fell 81.6% in March than the same month in 2019. Demand
improved over an 83.1% demand drop in February versus the same month in 2019.
Capacity fell 67.2%, and load factor declined 32.3 percentage points to 41.3%.

North American
saw March traffic sink 80.9% compared to the 2019 period but reported
gains when compared to the 83.4% decline in February compared to two years ago.
Capacity sagged 62.6%, and load factor dropped 41.0 percentage points to 42.9%.

Latin American
experienced an82.4% demand drop in March, compared to the same month
in 2019, a slight improvement compared to the 83.7% decline in February
compared to February 2019. March capacity was down 77.4% compared to March
2019, and load factor dropped 18.1 percentage points to 63.6%, the highest
among the regions for a sixth straight month.

African airlines’
traffic sank
73.7% in March versus March two years ago, marking a deterioration compared to
a 72.3% decline recorded in February compared to February 2019. March capacity
contracted 61.8% versus March 2019, and load factor fell 22.3 percentage points
to 49.0%.

The Bottom Line

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants and rising cases in some
countries are behind governments’ reluctance to lift travel restrictions and
quarantine. However, we are beginning to see positive developments, such as the
recent announcement by European Commission President von der Leyen that
vaccinated travellers from the US will be allowed to enter the EU. At least 24
countries have already said they will welcome vaccinated travellers. We expect
this to continue and gather momentum as vaccination numbers rise. However,
governments should not rely only on vaccinations, as it risks discriminating
against those individuals who are unable to get a vaccine for medical or other
reasons or who lack access to vaccines—a common situation in much of the world
today. Affordable, timely and effective testing must be available as an
alternative to vaccines in facilitating travel,” said Walsh.

“Furthermore, for as long as these health measures are required,
governments need to accept digital Covid-19 test and vaccination certificates
and to follow global standards for issuing their own vaccination certificates
and test results. We are already seeing intolerable waits at some airports, as
airlines, passengers and border control authorities are having to rely on paper
processes at a time when airports are no longer designed to accommodate them.
The IATA Travel Pass addresses this challenge by enabling travellers to control
and share their digital vaccination certificate or test results with airlines
and border authorities, easing facilitation and reducing the risk of fraudulent
documents,” said Walsh.