By Emmie V. Abadilla
The Covid-19 pandemic sledgehammered Asia Pacific airlines the most as passenger demand plunged 41 percent at the start of travel restrictions this February, according to the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) data.
Globally, demand (measured in total revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) fell 14.1 percent compared to the same period last year, the steepest decline in traffic since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the U.S.
The airlines’ February, 2020 capacity (available seat kilometers or ASKs) fell 8.7 percent as they scrambled to trim capacity in line with plunging traffic. Load factor fell 4.8 percentage points to 75.9 percent.
“The 14.1% global fall in demand is severe, but for carriers in Asia-Pacific the drop was 41%. And it has only grown worse. Without a doubt this is the biggest crisis that the industry has ever faced,” declated Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
The full effect of the pandemic will be known in the March results.
February international passenger demand fell 10.1% compared to February 2019, the worst outcome since the 2003 SARS outbreak and a reversal from the 2.6% traffic increase recorded in January.
Europe and Middle East were the only regions to see a year-over-year traffic rise.
Capacity fell 5.0%, and load factor plunged 4.2 percentage points to 75.3%.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ February traffic plummeted 30.4% compared to the year-ago period, steeply reversing a 3.0% gain recorded in January.
Capacity fell 16.9% and load factor collapsed to 67.9%, a 13.2- percentage point drop compared to February 2019.
Middle Eastern airlines posted a 1.6% traffic increase in February, a slowdown from the 5.3% year-over-year growth reported in January largely owing to a slowdown on Middle East-Asia-Pacific routes.
Capacity increased by 1.3%, and load factor edged up 0.2 percentage point to 72.6%.
North American carriers had a 2.8% traffic decline in February, reversing a 2.9% gain in January, as international entry restrictions hit home and volumes on Asia- North America routes plunged 30%. Capacity fell 1.5%, and load factor dropped 1.0 percentage point to 77.7%.
Latin American airlines experienced a 0.4% demand drop in February compared to the same month last year. This actually was an improvement over the 3.5% decline recorded in January.
However, the spread of the virus and resulting travel restrictions will be reflected in March results. Capacity also fell 0.4% and load factor was flat compared to February 2019 at 81.3%.