Stock - (Delta) Airlines
Domestic passenger services were seen as offering some panacea in markets such as China and the US. But January brought even that to a halt. Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: Global airline passenger traffic saw another decline as countries rushed into new lockdown measures over new strains of the COVID-19. This impacted even on domestic travel in markets such as China, which had until then been one of the few positives for the aviation industry.

Passenger traffic – expressed in terms of revenue passenger kilometers (RPK) - was down 72 per cent year-over-year in January compared to 2019. Domestic traffic alone was down 47.4 per cent, while international flight demand fell 85.6 per cent, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA) during a virtual event on Tuesday.

China, which emerged as the largest domestic air travel market during the pandemic, seems to have hit a snag. “We saw increasing travel restrictions placed domestically as well as internationally in China, which led to the very sharp fall,” said Brian Pearce, IATA’s Chief Economist. “February - the Chinese New Year period - typically would be a period of strong travel - [this year] it wasn't.”

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Bookings decline

“The last few weeks have seen a decline, particularly for domestic travel bookings…. (because) passengers are booking much closer to the travel date because of the uncertainties,” said Pearce. “We'll probably see another set of weak numbers before it gets better.”

Cargo grows

Cargo traffic – measured in cargo tonne per kilometer flow (CTK) – was 1.1 per cent higher, compared to the same period in 2019. “The good news is that the cargo business has seen volumes recover to pre-crisis levels in January,” said Pearce.

However, this growth does not seem to be evenly distributed. “We are still seeing weakness in Europe - the North Atlantic market, and the Europe to Asia market are nowhere near as strong as markets connecting Asia - the manufacturing centre - with the US and North America.”