Airport passengers
Domestic travel in the US and Asia-Pacific was picking up before getting hit with new cases of COVID-19 Image Credit: AP Photo

Dubai: Global air travel continued to recover in July, but still much weaker than industry expectations, according to the latest IATA (International Air Travel Association) update.

Passenger traffic measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) was down 79.8 per cent year-on-year in July, but still some improvement on the 94.1 per cent year-on-year fall in April. International travel typically accounts for two-thirds of global air travel.

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“This is disappointing - it's actually a little less than we had expected,” said Brian Pearce, IATA’s Chief Economist. “There's some downside risk to the forecasts… we'll have to see how the next couple of months develop.

“The reason for the weakness … is essentially a lack of international travel.”

Internal demand

Worldwide domestic air travel fared much better with revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) down 57.5 per cent from a year earlier, compared to the 91.9 percent year-on-year drop in April. The domestic market had fully recovered by July, but in the last few weeks has been hit by the reappearance of new COVID-19 cases in some countries, Pearce said.

Markets like the North Atlantic and the Pacific air travel market within Asia are “all showing absolutely no growth”. In the Middle East, carriers posted a 93.3 per cent traffic decline for July compared with a 96.1 per cent drop in June. Passenger capacity tumbled 85.6 per cent, while load factor sank 43.4 percentage points to 38.0 per cent.

However, demand for cargo remains strong in the region. IATA data show that seasonally-adjusted demand for cargo in July was actually up 7.2 per cent month-on-month – and the best among all regions.

'Under risk'

The organization is concerned that July’s underwhelming global air travel demand may further hamper airline industry’s revival. IATA had earlier predicted a full recovery by 2024.

“The challenge is really on international travel - at the moment, with borders closed with we're seeing very little recovery,” said Pearce.

If governments successfully implement IATA’s COVID-19 protocols, “then we could see a resumption of international travel, which then might not damage earlier forecasts. [These] clearly are under some risk at the moment.”