International travel at standstill, local demand surging – IATA

Published May 5, 2021, 2:00 PM

by Emmie V. Abadilla

Global travel remains largely shutdown although domestic demand is perking up, according to latest statistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Passenger traffic fell in March 2021 compared to pre-COVID levels (March 2019) but rose versus the immediate month prior (February 2021).

(Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted, all comparisons are made against March 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.)

Total demand for air travel in March 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) plunged 67.2 percent versus the same period last year.. 

It was an improvement over the 74.9 percent decline recorded in February 2021 versus February 2019. 

Gains in domestic markets, particularly China, accounted for the improvement although international traffic remained restricted.

International passenger demand in March was 87.8 percent below March 2019, a very small improvement from the 89 percent decline recorded in February 2021 versus two years ago.

Total domestic demand was down 32.3 percent versus pre-crisis levels (March 2019), greatly improved

over February 2021, when domestic traffic was down 51.2 percent versus the 2019 period.

“The positive momentum we saw in some key domestic markets in March indicates the strong recovery

we anticipate in international markets as travel restrictions are lifted,” according to Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

“People want and need to fly. And we can be optimistic that they will do so when restrictions are removed,” he noted.

To facilitate an efficient restart of international travel, COVID-19 testing must be affordable as well as timely, widely available and effective.

An IATA sampling of costs for PCR tests (the test most frequently required by governments) in 16 countries showed wide variations by markets and within markets. 

Markets covered in the IATA sampling include the Philippines, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, , Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, UK, USA, and Vietnam.  The inbound requirements for PCR testing by many states make the availability of affordable options everywhere critical for a travel recovery, IATA underscored.