Iata’s announcement of its full-year global passenger traffic results for 2021 show a slow improvement in the fortunes of airlines. The impact of the Omicron crisis in December, on Africa specifically, is also clearly visible.
Overall demand, measured in revenue passenger kms (RPKs) fell by 58,4% compared with the full year of 2019. This represented an improvement compared with 2020, when full-year RPKs were down 65,8% on the 2019 figures. (All comparisons are with the 2019 period, which followed a normal demand pattern.)
International demand in 2021 was 75,5% below 2019 levels and load factors fell 24 percentage points to 58%.
Domestic demand in 2021 was down 28,2% compared with 2019, while load factors dropped 9,3 percentage points to 74,3%.
Willie Walsh, Iata Director General said: “Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021. That trend continued into December, despite travel restrictions in the face of Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel. The challenge for 2022 is to reinforce that confidence by normalising travel. While international travel remains far from normal in many parts of the world, there is momentum in the right direction. Last week, France and Switzerland announced significant easing of measures. And yesterday (January 24), the UK removed all testing requirements for vaccinated travellers. We hope others will follow their important lead, particularly in Asia where several key markets remain in virtual isolation.”
Impact of Omicron
Total traffic for December 2021 was 45,1% below the same month in 2019. Traffic was improved from the 47% contraction in November, as monthly demand continued to recover, despite concerns over Omicron. Capacity was down 37,6% and load factors fell 9,8 percentage points to 72,3%.
Omicron travel restrictions slowed the recovery in international demand by about two weeks in December. International demand has been recovering at a pace of about four percentage points per month compared with 2019. Without Omicron, Iata says it would have expected international demand for the month of December to improve to around 56,5% below 2019 levels. Instead, volumes rose marginally to 58,4% below 2019.
Africa felt the full impact of Omicron more than other regions, as the restrictions were squarely aimed at African countries. Africa as a region saw demand for December fall to 60,5% below December 2019 – this was a five percentage-point deterioration from the 56,5% decline in November. Africa’s international traffic fell 65,2% last year over 2019 – the best performance among Iata’s regions.
Load factors in 2021
Africa’s load factors were 14,1 percentage points behind 2019 numbers, at 57,3%.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ load factors fell 44,3 percentage points to 36,5%.
European carriers’ load factors decreased 20,6 percentage points to 65%.
Middle Eastern airlines saw a load factor decline of 25,1 percentage points to 51,1%.
North American airlines’ load factors sank 23,8 percentage points to 60,2%.
The Latin American region saw its load factors drop 10,2 percentage points to 72,6%.