ACI World data shows COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate international air traffic

Domestic markets continued positive trend but recovery prospects remain fragile

Airlines around the world, including Cathay, had to ground thousands of planes at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Use this oneAirports Council International (ACI) World data released on 28 August has revealed that the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continued in June with global passenger traffic declining by -85.6 percent year-over-year. This was a slight improvement compared to the -91.3 percent year-over-year result in May and the second consecutive month with a marginal progress.

Global passenger traffic continued to decline, falling by another six percentage points compared to the prior month to -58.5 percent for the first six months of 2020. The 12-month rolling average for the global industry continued to move further into negative territories and was recorded at -27.3 percent by the end of June.

Air freight continued to be less impacted by the effect of the pandemic compared to the passenger market. Global air freight volumes saw improvement in June with year-over-year volumes showing a decline of -11.4 percent in June compared to a decline of -17.9 percent in May resulting in a -12.3 percent drop for the first six months of 2020. The global 12-month rolling average continued however it downward trend to reach a -7.3 percent drop by the end of the June.

ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

“In the early days of the crisis, there were predictions that June would be the turning point with the recovery of the aviation industry beginning” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said. “In fact, June results shows only a slow recovery in domestic markets in China and the United States while the international passenger segment continued to be practically non-existent, heavily affecting the financial results of the airports and postponing the recovery. While we noted some signs for optimism in June, the industry has remained on the ground for much longer than anticipated. In addition to the recovery taking longer than previously expected, uncertainty persists for the aviation industry.

“The recovery of air travel is crucial in the wider global economic recovery but, to succeed, it will need passengers to have confidence in the industry’s focus on their health and welfare and for governments to pursue harmonised, proportionate, evidence-based health measures,” de Oliveira added. “Unilateral national measures, especially a quarantine requirement for instance, is damaging to both the industry and passenger confidence and ACI has urged governments to follow a robust and consistent protocol for testing which should be implemented only when necessary and as an alternative to broad-brush requirements for quarantine.”

Passenger traffic

A little more than six months ago Changi Airport in Singapore was full of passengers. Now a lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

All regional markets posted improved global passenger traffic in June compared to May but – except for Asia-Pacific and North America – all other regions posted declines above 90 percent. The recovery of the domestic traffic in North America and Asia-Pacific helped them to record significantly better global traffic volumes in June with decline of 76.9 percent and 81.2 percent respectively compared to 82.5 percent and 90.3 percent in May. International passenger traffic continued to be virtually halted for a third consecutive month with all regions recording decline above 95 percent year-over-year for June. The 12-month rolling average for the international segment was recorded at 29.6 percent and 64.5 percent for the first six months of 2020.

A screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking site. To access the live site, click on the image. (IMAGE: Matt Driskill)

Besides Asia-Pacific and North America, domestic passenger markets continued to be severely impacted by the pandemic. Africa remains the most effected region with a year-over-year decline of 94.3 percent in June while Asia-Pacific, North America and now Europe show signs of improvement with decreases of 63.2 percent, 78.1 percent and 81.1 percent respectively. Latin America-Caribbean improved in June compare to May but remains severely impacted with decline of -88.3 percent of its domestic passenger market.

Air freight

Air cargo too has been impacted like passenger carriers due to border closures. (PHOTO: Korean Air)

Globally, air freight volumes were much less impacted by the effect of the pandemic. While passenger traffic was reduced by more than 85 percent, air freight volumes dropped by slightly more than a tenth year-over-year in June (-11.4 percent) compared to a drop of -17.9 percent in May. All regions apart from North America recorded significant losses in June with Latin America-Caribbean posting a drop of 28.6 percent, Africa at 27 percent, and the Middle East at 26.3 percent while Asia-Pacific and Europe recorded lesser losses with decreases of 16 percent and 15.6 percent respectively. North America saw its total air freight volume to come back in positive territories with an increase of 3.9 percent in June compare to June 2019 mostly thanks to its strong domestic market (+11.7 percent) that compensated for the losses of -6.4 percent of its International freight market. The international air freight markets losses were eased in June with a decline of -15.2 percent year-over-year compared to -19.6 percent in May. Domestic freight volumes also improved and are now at only -2.4 percent of June 2019 volumes mostly due to the strong performance of North America domestic market which recorded and increase of 11.7 percent in June compared to last year.

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