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2020 a year to ‘forget’ as IATA releases industry snapshot

written by Isabella Richards | August 4, 2021

(Image from IATA)

Last year was declared a year to “forget” as the International Air Travel Association released its statistic snapshot on Tuesday showing recessions worse than the global financial crisis.

IATA released its World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) on Tuesday, reporting an industry-wide demand drop of 65.9 per cent last year compared with 2019.

While 2021 has seen significant improvement for airlines, COVID-19 outbreaks – such as Delta – continue to stunt growth for the industry worldwide.

During the worst of the pandemic in April last year, 66 per cent of the world’s commercial aircraft was grounded due to border closures and restrictions.

IATA director general Willie Walsh said a million jobs disappeared and industry losses totalled US$126 billion.

“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,” Walsh added.

Airlines in the US and China carried the most passengers last year, while still seeing demand far lower than 2019.


The US kept the industry afloat as three of its top airlines – American, Delta and United – carried the most passengers, totalling almost 350 million passengers in 2020.

While China’s aviation industry lost ground for most of the year, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines carried the second highest number of passengers, totalling almost 200 million.

Despite this, China has found itself in a slump as airlines scheduled 9.8 per cent fewer seats this week according to Bloomberg, 95.7 per cent fewer than this time in 2019 due to recent outbreaks.

“We always knew that 2021 would feature a one-step-forward, one-step-backward approach, but were hopeful that the strides forward could be larger,” Rob Morris, global head of consultancy at Cirium said.

“We’ll know in the next few weeks if China, for example, sees that recovery dented by the latest outbreak. But for now, on balance, there’s more reason for optimism than pessimism.”

While last year was deeply impacted by the pandemic, air freight persevered as it transported essential cargo such as vaccines, personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

Industry-wide, the cargo market dropped 21.4 per cent, leading to a “capacity crunch” of a load factor up 7 per cent, the highest since 1990.

IATA said while close to the end of the year air cargo climbed back to pre-pandemic levels, the decline was still the largest since the 2009 global financial crisis.

Many industry sources say the effects from the crisis from 2020 will trickle down for decades to come, but the aviation industry will return to normal yet again.

Ben Graham-Evans from IBA Aviation Law Committee said in April: “Over the last year I haven’t spoken to anyone who believes there will be a long-term downturn in the requirement for travel.”


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