COVID-19 Hits January Passenger Demand

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced global passenger traffic data for January 2020, showing that demand (measured in total revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) climbed 2.4 per cent compared to January 2019. This was down from 4.6 per cent year-over-year growth for the prior month and is the lowest monthly increase since April 2010, at the time of the volcanic ash cloud crisis in Europe that led to massive airspace closures and flight cancellations. January capacity (available seat kilometers or ASKs) increased by 1.7 per cent load factor climbed 0.6 percentage point to 80.3 per cent.

“January was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the traffic impacts we are seeing owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, given that major travel restrictions in China did not begin until 23 January. Nevertheless, it was still enough to cause our slowest traffic growth in nearly a decade,” said IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.

In January international passenger demand rose 2.5 per cent compared to January 2019, down from 3.7 per cent growth the previous month. With the exception of Latin America, all regions recorded increases, led by airlines in Africa and the Middle East that saw minimal impact from the COVID-19 outbreak in January. Capacity climbed 0.9 per cent, and load factor rose 1.2 percentage points to 81.1 per cent.

African airlines’ traffic climbed 5.3 per cent in January, up slightly from 5.1 per cent growth in December. Capacity rose 5.7 per cent, however, and load factor slipped 0.3 percentage point to 70.5 per cent.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 5.4 per cent traffic increase in January, the fourth consecutive month of solid demand growth, reflecting strong performance from larger Europe-Middle East and Middle East-Asia routes, which were not significantly impacted by route cancellations related to COVID-19 at that time. Capacity increased just 0.5 per cent, with load factor jumping 3.6 percentage points to 78.3 per cent.