2020 worst year on record for airlines

Published August 4, 2021, 7:44 AM

by Emmie V. Abadilla

The COVID-19 crisis year 2020 was the worst in the almost one century history of the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) last night (August 3) reported in its World Air Transport Statistics (WATS).
A total of 1.8 billion passengers flew in 2020, a decrease of 60.2% compared to the 4.5 billion who flew in 2019.
Industry-wide air travel demand (measured in revenue passenger-kilometers, or RPKs) dropped by 65.9% year-on-year.
International passenger demand (RPKs) decreased by 75.6% compared to the year prior.
Domestic air passenger demand (RPKs) dropped by 48.8% in the comparative period.
Air connectivity declined by more than half in 2020 with the number of routes connecting airports falling dramatically at the outset of the crisis and was down more than 60% year-on-year in April 2020.
On average, there was a $71.7 loss incurred per passenger in 2020, corresponding to net losses of $126.4 billion in total
Total industry passenger revenues fell by 69% to $189 billion.
The decline in air passengers transported in 2020 was the largest recorded since global RPKs started being tracked around 1950.
“It was a year that we’d all like to forget. But analyzing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance,” remarked IATA Director General Willie Walsh.
“At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66% of the world’s commercial air transport fleet was grounded as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines. A million jobs disappeared. And industry losses for the year totaled $126 billion,” he pointed out.
“Many governments recognized aviation’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support. But it was the rapid action by airlines and the commitment of our people that saw the airline industry through the most difficult year in its history,” Walsh underscored.
The Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic with a drop of 71.5% in RPKs versus 2019, followed by Europe (-69.7%) and the African region (-68.5%)
China became the largest domestic market in 2020 for the first time on record, as air travel rebounded faster in their domestic market following their efforts to control COVID-19.
In Asia-Pacific, airlines carried 780.7 million passengers, a decrease of 53.4%.
In North America, airlines flew 401.7 million passengers, down 60.8%; in Europe, 389.9 million passengers, down 67.4%; in Latin America, 123.6 million passengers, down 60.6%, in the Middle East,76.8 million passengers, a decrease of 67.6% and in Africa, 34.3 million passengers, down 65.7%.
The top five airlines ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometers flown, were:
1 American Airlines (124 billion)
2 China Southern Airlines (110.7 billion)
3 Delta Air Lines (106.5 billion)
4 United Airlines (100.2 billion)
5 China Eastern Airlines (88.7 billion)
The top five route areas by passenger demand (RPKs), with the largest drop being seen in routes within the Far East:
1 Within Europe (290.3 million, down 70.7% from 2019)
2 Europe – North America (122.9 million, decreased 80.4% from 2019)
3 Within Far East (117.3 million, a decrease of 84.1% from 2019)
4 Europe – Far East (115.3 million, a decrease of 79% from 2019)
5 Middle East – Far East (104 million, down 73.6% from 2019)
The top five domestic passenger airport-pairs were all in Asia and outperformed top international routes as domestic recovery returned faster, particularly in China:
1 Jeju – Seoul Gimpo (10.2 million, up 35.1% over 2019)
2 Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City (5.9 million, an increase of 54.3% from 2019)
3 Shanghai-Hongqiao – Shenzhen (3.7 million, up 43.4% from 2019)
4 Beijing-Capital – Shanghai-Hongqiao (3.6 million, increased by 11.8% from 2019)
5 Guangzhou – Shanghai-Hongqiao (3.5 million, up 41.2% from 2019)
The top five nationalities traveling by air (international) were:
1 United States (45.7 million, or 9.7% of all passengers)
2 United Kingdom (40.8 million, or 8.6% of all passengers)
3 Germany (30.8 million, or 6.5% of all passengers)
4 France (23.3 million, or 4.9% of all passengers)
5 India (17.4 million, or 3.7% of all passengers)
Air freight was the bright spot in air transport for 2020, as the market adapted to keep goods moving—including vaccines, personal protective equipment (PPE) and vital medical supplies—despite the massive drop in capacity from the bellies of passenger aircraft.
Industry-wide available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs) fell 21.4% year-on-year in 2020.
This led to a capacity crunch, with the industry-wide cargo load factor up 7.0 percentage points to 53.8%. This is the highest value in the IATA series started in 1990.
At the end of the year, industry-wide cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) had returned close to pre-crisis values.
However, the yearly decline in cargo demand (CTKs) was still the largest since the Global Financial Crisis in 2009, at a sizeable 9.7% year-on-year in 2020.
The top five airlines ranked by scheduled cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) flown were:
1 Federal Express (19.7 billion)
2 United Parcel Service (14.4 billion)
3 Qatar Airways (13.7 billion)
4 Emirates (9.6 billion)
5 Cathay Pacific Airways (8.1 billion)
In terms of airline alliances,
Star Alliance maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2020 with 18.7% of total scheduled traffic (in RPKs), followed by SkyTeam (16.3%) and oneworld (12.7%)