IATA: Passenger demand shrinks 91.3% in May

Global passenger demand in May (measured in revenue passenger kilometers - RPKs), dropped 91.3% versus the same period last year but improved slightly from April, with some recovery in domestic markets like China.

This was according to latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

However, “May was not quite as terrible as April. That’s about the best thing that can be said,"  observed Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

"As predicted, the first improvements in passenger demand are occurring in domestic markets. International traffic remained virtually stopped in May," he explained.

"We are only at the very beginning of a long and difficult recovery. And there is tremendous uncertainty about what impact a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases in key markets could have,” the CEO warned.

May's passenger demand was a mild uptick from the 94% annual decline recorded in April 2020. 

Nevertheless, capacity plummeted 95.3%, and load factor sank 51.9 percentage points to 28.6% meaning a bit more than a quarter of seats were filled, on average.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ May traffic plunged 98.0% compared to the year-ago period, also in line with a

98.2% recorded in April. 

Capacity fell 95.1% and load factor shrank 46.6 percentage points to 32.1%.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 98.0% traffic contraction for May, compared with a 97.3% demand drop in April. 

Capacity tumbled 93.9%, and load factor sagged to 23.9%, down 49.1 percentage points compared to the year ago period.

North American carriers had a 98.2% traffic decline in May, little changed from a 98.4% decline in April. 

Capacity fell 94.5%, and load factor dropped 56.7 percentage points to 27.2%.

Latin American airlines experienced a 98.1% demand drop in May compared to the same month last year, versus a 98.2% drop in April. 

Capacity fell 96.6% and load factor fell 38.1 percentage points to 45.9%, best among the regions.

European carriers’ May demand contracted 98.7% compared to last year, virtually unchanged from a 98.9% drop in April, year-over-year, and the worst decline among regions. 

Capacity dropped 97.5% and load factor fell by 41.7 percentage points to 42.4%.

African airlines’ traffic sank 98.2% in May, fractionally improved from a 98.7% decline in April. 

Capacity contracted 77.8%, which was the smallest supply reduction among the regions, and load factor dived 61.8 percentage points to just 5.3% of seats filled, which was the lowest among regions.

On the other hand, domestic traffic fell 79.2% in May. 

This was an improvement compared to an 86.2% decline in April. Domestic capacity fell 69.2% and load factor dropped 27.2 percentage points to 56.9%.

China’s carriers posted a 49.9% year-on-year decline in traffic in May, significantly improved from the 64.6% demand drop recorded in April. 

However, the improvement has been more recently interrupted by flight cancellations to and from Beijing amid an increase in the number of new infections in the city.

US airlines’ domestic traffic was down 89.5% in May, an improvement over the 95.6% decline experienced in April. 

However, the recent rise in infection rates in key US states following the lifting of lockdown restrictions could negatively impact the budding recovery.

“We appear to be in the very early stages of a recovery in air travel. But the situation is fragile," de Juniac reiterated.

"We need governments to quickly implement the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO’s) global guidelines for restoring air connectivity."

“Governments also need to avoid adding blockers to the recovery, such as implementing entry quarantines. They have the same impact as outright travel bans and will keep economies closed down."

"It is critical that governments don’t stall the fragile recovery by introducing new regulatory or cost barriers to travel,” he concluded.