Asian airlines remain worst hit by covid-19 pandemic


NEW DELHI: Air passenger traffic in Asia, including in India, remains the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with January traffic slumping 94.6% year-on-year, aviation lobby group IATA said in a statement.

December air traffic was down 94.4% on year.

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“The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for the seventh consecutive month. Capacity dropped 86.5% and load factor sank 49.4 percentage points to 32.6%, by far the lowest among regions,” it said.

Passenger demand in January 2021, measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs, was down 72% on year, worse than the 69.7% year-over-year decline recorded in December last year.

“2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended, and that is saying a lot. Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new COVID variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions. The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

“Forward bookings in February this year for the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78% below levels in February 2019,” he added.

IATA expects the aviation industry to remain cash negative through 2021 due to the pandemic which has hit travel demand amid curbs on movement in several countries to contain the spread of the virus.

According to the industry body, estimates for cash burn in 2021 have ballooned to $75-$95 billion from the previously anticipated $48 billion.

“It is already clear that the first half of 2021 will be worse than earlier anticipated. This is because governments have tightened travel restrictions in response to new covid-19 variants. Forward bookings for summer (July-August) are currently 78% below levels in February 2019 (comparisons to 2020 are distorted owing to covid-19 impacts),” IATA said in a separate statement.

Juniac added that financial prospects for airlines for the year are also worsening, given government mandated travel curbs.

“This is not something that the industry will be able to endure without additional relief measures from governments. Increased testing capability and vaccine distribution are the keys for governments to unlock economic activity, including travel,” he said. “It is critical that governments build and share their restart plans along with the benchmarks that will guide them.”

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