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IATA reports mixed bag for January passenger and cargo numbers

By Edward Robertson

The New Year has brought mixed blessings to the aviation industry with passenger numbers still badly depressed but cargo numbers finally beating pre-Covid levels.

New figures released by IATA show that in January, 2021, passenger demand measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) was down 72 per cent compared to January, 2019, before the start of the pandemic.

This was also worse than the drop recorded in December 2020, which measured 69.7 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.

However, cargo figures tell a very different story with global demand measured in cargo-tonne kilometres (CTK) up by 1.1 per cent in January compared to 2019 which also proved to be a 3 per cent increase on December 2020 CTK.

Drilling down into the passenger figures, IATA’s data shows that domestic demand in January 2021 was down 47.4 per cent compared to January 2019 while international demand had fallen by 85.6 per cent.

Asia Pacific was the worst hit region for January traffic, with demand down 94.6 per cent, making it the seventh month in a row the region has suffered the steepest decline, followed by Europe with an 83.2 per cent decline.

The two regions were then followed by the Middle East at 82.3 per cent, North America at 79 per cent, Latin America at 78.5 per cent and lastly Africa, which was down by 66.1 per cent in January.

IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said: “2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot. Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new Covid variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions.

“The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Forward bookings in February this year for the northern hemisphere summer travel season were 78% below levels in February 2019.”

While the fall in passenger numbers was an issue, de Juniac added the drop was also instrumental in driving up cargo numbers thanks to resulting global capacity cuts of19.5 per cent in January on the passenger side.

The boost was also driven by continuing robust conditions in the world’s manufacturing sector while new export orders also continue to point to further CTK improvement.

This time Latin America was the worst hit region, with international cargo volumes falling 16.1 per cent in the specified periods while Asia Pacific was next with a drop of 3.2 per cent.

Europe remains the closest to growth, having only seen a decline of 0.6 per cent, a considerable improvement on the 5.6 per cent drop it saw in December.

Meanwhile, the Middle East, North America and Africa all saw growth in international cargo demand, recording 6 per cent, 8.5 per cent and 22.4 per cent respectively. Africa’s particularly robust growth was boosted by strong links to Asia in the sector.

De Juniac said: “Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy. But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft.

“That should be a sign to governments that they need to share their plans for restart so that the industry has clarity in terms of how soon more capacity can be brought online. In normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air.

“This high value commerce is vital to helping restore COVID damaged economies—not to mention the critical role air cargo is playing in distributing lifesaving vaccines that must continue for the foreseeable future.”