Hope for air travel as demand rises

The airline sector saw indications of recovery in passenger traffic in May, as domestic demand and business confidence in key markets rose for the first time since the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April, both traffic and the capacity by airlines reached their lowest point relative to 2019. Airlines reduced the in-service fleet by half to 13,000 aircraft between January and April, but load factors stagnated at just 36.6 per cent. For Africa, traffic fell by 98.7 per cent in April, and the average passenger load factor was 7.7 per cent.

International airline lobby IATA now says daily flights rose 30 per cent between April 21 and May 27, 2020, while demand fell 94.3 per cent year on year, the sharpest decline in the 30 years that Iata has been publishing monthly traffic data. The recovery is led by domestic operations in a cluster of markets in Asia, the US and Europe.

According to Iata, governments in 75 per cent of the markets it tracks had banned all entry by the first week of April. Another 19 per cent had limited travel restrictions in place, such as compulsory quarantine requirements for international arrivals.


Many countries eased their lockdowns during May and some airlines have announced plans for a gradual return to service. Tanzania was the first in East Africa to open its airspace to international air travel starting June 1, and Ethiopian, Emirates, Flydubai and Qatar airlines have announced plans to resume services to the country this month.

Flight levels in South Korea, China and Vietnam are now 22 to 28 per cent below 2019 levels, according to data from late May. Searches for air travel on Google were up 25 per cent at the end of May compared with the low point in April. Iata says the rise is still 60 per cent lower than at the start of the year.

Iata says that the industry may have seen the worst of the crisis, as long as there’s no relapse.

“April may represent the nadir of the crisis,” Iata director general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said on June 3. He noted that the number of flights was increasing and governments were lifting the Covid-19 related restrictions.

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