People wearing face masks are seen on an airplane from Cairo to Hurghada, Egypt, on June 18, 2020. Egypt reported on Thursday 1,218 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total cases registered in the country since mid-February to 50,437, said Egyptian Health Ministry. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that passenger demand in September remained highly depressed.

· Total demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was 72.8% below September 2019 levels (only slightly improved over the 75.2% year-to-year decline recorded in August). Capacity was down 63% compared to a year ago and load factor fell 21.8 percentage points to 60.1%.

· International passenger demand in September plunged 88.8% compared to September 2019, basically unchanged from the 88.5% decline recorded in August. Capacity plummeted 78.9%, and load factor withered 38.2 percentage points to 43.5%.

· Domestic demand in September was down 43.3% compared to the previous year, improved from a 50.7% decline in August. Compared to 2019, capacity fell 33.3% and the load factor dropped 12.4 percentage points to 69.9%.

“We have hit a wall in the industry’s recovery. A resurgence in COVID-19 outbreaks–particularly in Europe and the US–combined with governments’ reliance on the blunt instrument of quarantine in the absence of globally aligned testing regimes, has halted momentum toward re-opening borders to travel. Although domestic markets are doing better, this is primarily owing to improvements in China and Russia. And domestic traffic represents just a bit more than a third of total traffic, so it is not enough to sustain a general recovery,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

International Passenger Markets

European carriers’ September demand collapsed 82.5% versus a year ago, which was a setback compared to an 80.5% decline in August. Europe was the only region to see a deterioration in traffic compared to August, owing to renewed infections that led to a wave of border closings. Capacity contracted 70.7% and load factor fell by 35.1 percentage points to 51.8%.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ September traffic sank 95.8% compared to the year-ago period, virtually unchanged from a 96.2% drop in August. The region continued to suffer from the steepest fall in traffic as flight restrictions have remained stringent with little re-opening of borders. Capacity plummeted 89.6% and load factor shrank 46.8 percentage points to 31.7%, the lowest among regions.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 90.2% traffic decline for September, improved from a 92.3% demand drop in August. Capacity tumbled 78.5%, and load factor sank 40.9 percentage points to 34.4%.

North American carriers saw a 91.3% traffic decline in September, a slight improvement from a 92.0% decline in August. Capacity toppled 78.3%, and load factor dropped 49.8 percentage points to 33.4%.

Latin American airlines faced a 92.2% demand drop in September, compared to the same month last year, versus a 93.4% decline in August versus August 2019. Capacity dived 87.9% and load factor dropped 29.3 percentage points to 53.3%, highest among the regions.

African airlines’ traffic sank 88.5% in September, barely budged from an 88.7% drop in August. Capacity contracted 74.7%, and load factor fell 39.4 percentage points to 32.6%, which was the second lowest among regions.

Domestic Passenger Markets

Australia’s domestic traffic was down 88.7% compared to September 2019 virtually unchanged from August (-88.8%), amid continuing strict containment measures.

Brazil’s domestic traffic fell 55.3% in September, an 11.7 percentage point improvement compared to August.

The Bottom Line:

“Last week we provided analysis showing that the airline industry cannot slash costs fast enough to compensate for the collapse in passenger demand brought about by COVID-19 and government border closures and quarantines. Some 4.8 million aviation-sector jobs are imperiled, as are a total of 46 million people in the broader economy whose jobs are supported by aviation. To avoid this economic catastrophe, governments need to align on testing as a way to open borders and enable travel without quarantine; and provide further relief measures to sustain the industry through the dark winter ahead. A broader economic recovery is only possible through the connectivity provided by aviation,” said de Juniac.

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