Global aviation recorded 2020 as the “worst year” and is now seeing signs of recovery as many governments recognised the sector’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
In its latest World Air Transport Statistics publication for 2020 — released on Wednesday — Iata said around 1.8 billion passengers flew in 2020, indicating a decrease of 60.2 per cent, compared to the 4.5 billion who flew in 2019. Iata reported that industry-wide air travel demand, which is measured in revenue passenger-kilometers or RPKs, dropped by 65.9 per cent year on year. International passenger demand in 2020 decreased by 75.6 per cent compared to the year prior, while domestic air passenger demand also dropped by 48.8 per cent compared to 2019.
The report showed that 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, meanwhile, fell by 69 per cent to $189 billion in 2020, and net losses were recorded at $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.
Iata’s director general, Willie Walsh, described 2020 as a “year that we’d all like to forget.” However, he noted that 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,” Walsh said. “A million jobs disappeared, and industry losses for the year totalled $126 billion. Many governments recognised 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.”
Iata also reported that air freight was the bright spot in air transport for 2020, as the market adapted to keep goods moving – including vaccines, personal protective equipment (PPE), and vital medical supplies – despite the massive drop in capacity from the bellies of passenger aircraft. Industry-wide available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs) fell 21.4 per cent year-on-year in 2020, however industry-wide cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) at the end of the year had returned close to pre-crisis values.
Emirates emerged as one of the top five airlines ranked by scheduled CTKs flown. Federal Express took the top spot with 19.7 billion CTKs flown, followed by United Parcel Service with 14.4 billion CTKs flown, and Qatar Airways with 13.7 billion CTKs flown. Emirates took the fourth spot with 9.6 billion CTKs flown, with Cathay Pacific Airways rounding up the top five with 8.1 billion CTK’s flown.