Dubai: Air travel demand in 2021 might be much lower than levels previously anticipated as the new variants of the COVID-19 virus prompt governments to tighten restrictions and bring back lockdowns, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
If governments continue with the current restrictions on the airlines industry, passenger traffic - measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) – could average just 38 per cent of 2019 levels, compared to IATA’s previous expectation of 50 per cent.
This would most likely be the case if the “new variants prove difficult to deal with, with the existing vaccines and should governments take a much more cautious approach than we had been expecting,” said Brian Pearce, Chief Economist at IATA.
UK-UAE traffic surged
Pearce noted that the UK-UAE flight air routes had seen a surge in traffic after UK added UAE to its travel corridor list.
Last month, UK suspended flights from UAE amid surging coronavirus cases.
“Whenever those travel restrictions are reduced, bookings surge,” said Pearce. “Demand is also very fragile. And it’s vulnerable to shocks, we saw those bookings falling off sharply as the new variants emerged in the UK at the end of last year”
Globally, bookings were down 60 per cent on 2019, but that has now further deteriorated to 70 per cent, said Pearce.
Cargo is vital
“Air cargo is surviving the crisis in better shape than the passenger side of the business - for many airlines, 2020 saw air cargo become a vital source of revenues, despite weakened demand,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
“And, as countries strengthen travel restrictions in the face of new coronavirus variants, it is difficult to see improvements in passenger demand or the capacity crunch - 2021 will be another tough year,” he added.
Global demand in 2020, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs*), was 10.6 per cent below 2019 levels. Meanwhile, Middle Eastern carriers reported a decline in demand of 9.5 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 and a fall in capacity of 20.9 per cent.