Air traffic

Iata calls for rapid easing of travel restrictions as air traffic plunges – Reuters

The global aviation body which represents 290 airlines in 120 countries made the call by releasing dismal passenger traffic results for 2021, which showed demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPK) fell by 58 .4% compared to the year 2019.



Despite falling 54% in 2021 compared to 2019, global passenger traffic results represented an improvement compared to 2020, when full-year RPKs were down 65.8% from to 2019. — Photo from AP file

Published: Wed, Jan 26, 2022, 5:00 PM

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) on Wednesday urged governments to speed up the easing of travel restrictions “because travelers pose no more risk of spreading Covid-19 than already exists” in the general population.

The global aviation body which represents 290 airlines in 120 countries made the call by releasing dismal passenger traffic results for 2021, which showed a drop in demand (passenger-kilometres or RPK) of 58, 4% compared to the year 2019.

Middle Eastern airlines’ annual passenger volume in 2021 was even gloomier at 71.6% below 2019. Annual capacity fell 57.7% and load factor fell 25.1 points percentage to 51.1% December traffic was down 51.2v from December 2019, a solid pick – up from a 54.3% drop in November.

Iata has called for speeding up the easing of travel restrictions as Covid-19 continues to evolve from pandemic to endemic. He urged governments to remove all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for people fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine. He also advocated allowing quarantine-free travel for unvaccinated travelers with a negative antigen test result before departure.

“With the experience of the Omicron variant, there is growing scientific evidence and opinion opposing the targeting of travelers with restrictions and country bans to control the spread of Covid-19. The measures did not work. Today, Omicron is present in all regions of the world. This is why travel, with very few exceptions, does not increase the risk for the general population. The billions spent on testing travelers would be much more effective if allocated to distributing vaccines or strengthening health systems,” said Willie Walsh, chief executive of Iata.

Iata cited a recently published study by Oxera and Edge Health that demonstrated the extremely limited impact of travel restrictions on controlling the spread of Omicron. The study found that if the additional UK measures for Omicron had been in place since early November (prior to the identification of the variant), the peak of the Omicron wave would have been delayed by just five days with three for hundred fewer cases.

More governments must follow the UK’s example. “Accelerating the removal of travel restrictions will be a major step towards living with the virus,” the Iata chief said.

Reaction to Omicron

Walsh said the overreaction of many governments to Omicron proved the plan’s key point – the need for simple, predictable and practical ways to live with the virus that don’t constantly disconnect from the world.

“We have seen that targeting disproportionate measures at travelers has economic and social costs but very limited public health benefits. We must aim for a future where international travel is not subject to greater restrictions than visiting a store, attending a public gathering or riding the bus,” Walsh said.

“Whatever the rules are around vaccination requirements, the industry will be able to manage them with digital solutions, led by the IataTravel Pass. This is a proven solution implemented on a growing number of global networks,” said Walsh.

Despite a 54% drop in 2021 compared to 2019, global passenger traffic results represented an improvement compared to 2020, when full-year RPKs were down 65.8% compared to 2019. Total traffic for December 2021 was 45.1% lower than the same month in 2019, an improvement from the 47% contraction in November.

International passenger demand in 2021 was 75.5% below 2019 levels. Capacity (measured in available seat kilometers or ASK) fell 65.3% and load factor fell 24.0 percentage points to 58.0%.

Domestic demand in 2021 decreased by 28.2% compared to 2019. Capacity contracted by 19.2% and the load factor fell by 9.3 percentage points to 74.3%.

Air freight demand on the rise

Middle Eastern carriers reported an increase in international air cargo demand of 10.6% in 2021 compared to 2019 and a decline in international capacity of 10.1%. Globally, air cargo demand increased by 6.9% in 2021 compared to 2019 (pre-Covid levels) and by 18.7% compared to 2020 after a strong performance in December 2021, said Iata.

This is the second largest improvement in year-on-year demand since Iata began monitoring cargo performance in 1990 (behind the 20.6% gain in 2010), topping 8.9 percentage points the 9.8% rise in world merchandise trade.

In the Middle East, freight demand growth slowed towards the end of the year, partly due to a downward trend in volumes on the major Middle East-Asia route. In December, airlines in the region recorded a 5.7% increase in international demand compared to December 2019. International capacity decreased by 9.2% in December compared to the same month in 2019.

“Air cargo had a bumper year in 2021. For many airlines, it provided a vital source of revenue as passenger demand remained sluggish due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. However, growth opportunities have been lost due to pressures from labor shortages and constraints across the logistics system. Overall, economic conditions point to a strong 2022,” said Iata Chief Executive Willie Walsh.

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