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IATA travel and Cargo performances in May 2019, plus travel pass routes

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that both international and domestic travel demand showed marginal improvements in May 2021, compared to the prior month

Total demand for air travel in May 2021 was down 62.7% compared to 2019 Middle Eastern airlines experienced an 81.3% demand drop in May compared to May 2019 Global demand, measured in cargo ton-kilometers (CTKs*), was up 9.4% compared to May 2019

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that both international and domestic travel demand showed marginal improvements in May 2021, compared to the prior month, but traffic remained well below pre-pandemic levels. Recovery in international traffic, in particular, continued to be stymied by extensive government travel restrictions.

  • Total demand for air travel in May 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 62.7% compared to May 2019. That was a gain over the 65.2% decline recorded in April 2021 versus April 2019.
  • International passenger demand in May was 85.1% below May 2019, a small step-up from the 87.2% decline recorded in April 2021 versus two years ago. All regions with the exception of Asia-Pacific contributed to this modest improvement.
  • Total domestic demand was down 23.9% versus pre-crisis levels (May 2019), slightly improved over April 2021, when domestic traffic was down 25.5% versus the 2019 period. China and Russia traffic continue to be in in positive growth territory compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, while India and Japan saw significant deterioration amid new variants and outbreaks.

“We are starting to see positive developments, with some international markets opening to vaccinated travelers. The Northern Hemisphere summer travel season is now fully arrived. And it is disappointing that more governments are not moving more rapidly to use data to drive border opening strategies that would help revive tourism jobs and reunite families,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.

Some international passenger markets

European carriers’ May international traffic declined 84.7% versus May 2019, improved from the 87.7% decrease in April compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 75.7% and load factor fell 31.3 percentage points to 52.9%.

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their May international traffic fall 94.3% compared to May 2019, fractionally worse than the 94.2% drop registered in April 2021 versus April 2019. The region experienced the steepest traffic declines for a tenth consecutive month. Capacity was down 86.4% and the load factor sank 45.5 percentage points to 33.2%, the lowest among regions.

Middle Eastern airlines experienced an 81.3% demand drop in May compared to May 2019, slightly bettering the 82.9% decrease in April, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 63.7%, and load factor fell 35.3 percentage points to 37.7%.

The Bottom Line

Too many governments continue to act as if the only tool in their anti-COVID-19 arsenal is a blanket border closure or an arrival quarantine. In fact, research from leading medical organizations around the globe confirms that vaccinated travelers pose very little risk to the local population while data show that pre-departure testing largely removes the risk of unvaccinated travelers importing COVID-19.

Global air cargo

IATA released May 2021 data for global air cargo markets showing that demand continued its strong growth trend.

  • Global demand, measured in cargo ton-kilometers (CTKs*), was up 9.4% compared to May 2019. Seasonally adjusted demand rose by 0.4% month-on-month in May, the 13th consecutive month of improvement.  
  • The pace of growth slowed slightly in May compared to April which saw demand increase 11.3% against pre-COVID-19 levels (April 2019). Notwithstanding, air cargo outperformed global goods trade for the fifth consecutive month.
  • North American carriers contributed 4.6 percentage points to the 9.4% growth rate in May. Airlines in all other regions except for Latin America also supported the growth. 
  • Capacity remains constrained at 9.7% below pre-COVID-19 levels (May 2019) due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft. Seasonally adjusted capacity rose 0.8% month-on-month in May, the fourth consecutive month of improvement indicating that the capacity crunch is slowly unwinding. 

Underlying economic conditions and favorable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo:

o   Global trade rose 0.5% in April.

o   The Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs) – leading indicators of air cargo demand – show that business confidence, manufacturing output and new export orders are growing at a rapid pace in most economies.

o   The cost-competitiveness of air cargo relative to that of container shipping has improved.  Pre-crisis, the average price of air cargo was 12 times more expensive than sea shipping. In May 2021, it was 6 times more expensive.

“Propelled by strong economic growth in trade and manufacturing, demand for air cargo is 9.4% above pre-crisis levels. As economies unlock, we can expect a shift in consumption from goods to services. This could slow growth for cargo in general, but improved competitiveness compared to sea shipping should continue to make air cargo a bright spot for airlines while passenger demand struggles with continued border closures and travel restrictions,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.  

May Regional Performance

Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo increase 5.3% in May 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease compared to the previous month (5.9%) due to a slight slowdown in growth in several large trade routes such as Within Asia. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 16.9% versus May 2019. As was the case in April, the region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor at 75.2%. 

European carriers posted a 5.7% increase in demand in May 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease in performance compared to the previous month (11.5%) due to a slight slowdown in growth on key trade routes including Europe – Asia and Within Europe. International capacity decreased by 17.3% in May 2021 versus May 2019, remaining unchanged from the previous month.

Middle Eastern carriers posted a 14.1% rise in international cargo volumes in May 2021 versus May 2019. This was a slight decrease compared to the previous month (15.6%). Seasonally adjusted volumes remain on a robust upward trend. International capacity in May was down 6.1% compared to the same month in 2019, a robust improvement from the 10.1% drop in April.

IATA Travel pass

IATA’s ‘Travel Pass’ digital health platform will have more features in the coming weeks.

The Travel Pass initiative allows passengers to have a digital passport verified with all their pre-travel test or vaccination details to meet the requirements at the end destination. They are also able to share test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate smoother processing at airports.

In terms of penetration, the travel pass is actually in excess of 170 routes at the moment.

IATA is currently running a trial with Qatar Airways to utilize QR codes from vaccinations in the Gulf country.