The collapse in air traffic demand last year was the worst in aviation history.
International Air Transport Association full-year global passenger traffic results for 2020 show that demand (revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) fell by 65.9 per cent compared to 2019.
"Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it," said the association's director general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac.
What recovery there was over the Northern Hemisphere summer season stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season, as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of Covid-19, he said.
Optimism that the arrival and initial distribution of vaccines would lead to a quick and orderly restoration in global air travel have been dashed in the face of new outbreaks and new mutations of the disease.
"The world is more locked down today than at virtually any point in the past 12 months and passengers face a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally unco-ordinated travel restrictions."
He urged governments to work with the industry to develop standards for vaccination, testing, and validation to enable governments to have confidence that borders can reopen and international air travel can resume once the virus threat has been neutralised.
"In the meantime, the airline industry will require continued financial support from governments in order to remain viable," said de Juniac.
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In this country Air New Zealand plunged to its first full-year loss in 18 years in 2019-2020 and the airline is drawing on a $900 million taxpayer loan from the Government.
Association figures show international passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6 per cent below 2019 levels.
Asia-Pacific airlines' full-year traffic plunged 80.3 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, which was the deepest decline for any region.
Internationally, it fell 94.7 per cent in the month of December amid stricter lockdowns, little changed from a 95 per cent decline in November. Full-year capacity was down 74.1 per cent compared to 2019. Load factor fell 19.5 percentage points to 61.4 per cent.
Bookings for future travel made in January 2021 were down 70 per cent compared to a year ago, putting further pressure on airline cash positions and potentially affecting the timing of the expected recovery.
IATA's baseline forecast for this year is for a 50.4 per cent improvement on 2020 demand. That would bring the industry to 50.6 per cent of 2019 levels.
"While this view remains unchanged, there is a severe downside risk if more severe travel restrictions in response to new variants persist. Should such a scenario materialise, demand improvement could be limited to just 13 per cent over 2020 levels, leaving the industry at 38 per cent of 2019 levels," said de Juniac.