COVID-19: International Air Transport Association says traffic demand for March was a disaster

Imposition of travel restrictions to slow spread of virus drove traffic into the ground.

traffic map taken on 30 April
A screenshot of Flightradar24's air traffic map taken on 30 April. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The main trade group for the global airline industry said March passenger data showed airlines around the world suffered more than a steep drop in demand as countries began to lock down their borders as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread.

A screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University virus tracking site. To access the live site, click on the image above. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said global passenger traffic results for March showed demand (measured in total revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) fell 52.9 percent compared to the year-ago period. This was the largest decline in recent history, IATA said, and reflected the impact of government actions to slow the spread of COVID-19. In seasonally adjusted terms, global passenger volumes returned to levels last seen in 2006. March capacity (available seat kilometres or ASKs) fell by 36.2 percent and load factor plummeted 21.4 percentage points to 60.6 percent.


AAV_Newsletter“March was a disastrous month for aviation. Airlines progressively felt the growing impact of the COVID-19 related border closings and restrictions on mobility, including in domestic markets. Demand was at the same level it was in 2006 but we have the fleets and employees for double that. Worse, we know that the situation deteriorated even more in April and most signs point to a slow recovery,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

IATA’s Director General Alexandre de Juniac. (PHOTO: IATA)

“The industry is in free fall and we have not hit bottom. But there will come a time, soon, I hope, when authorities will be ready to begin easing restrictions on mobility and opening borders,” de Juniac said. “It is imperative that governments work with industry now to prepare for that day. It is the only way to ensure that we have measures in place to keep passengers safe during travel and reassure governments that aviation will not be a vector in the spread of the disease. We must also avoid the confusion and complexity that followed 9/11. Global standards that are mutually accepted and operationally practicable will be mission-critical to achieving this. The only way to get there is by working together.”

Equal_Earth_projectionInternational Passenger Markets

March international passenger demand shrank 55.8 percent compared to March 2019. That is much worse than the 10.3 percent year-to-year decline in February. All regions recorded double-digit percentage traffic declines. Capacity tumbled 42.8 percent, and load factor plunged 18.4 percentage points to 62.5 percent.

Sino-FederationAsia-Pacific airlines led the declines, as March traffic dropped 65.5 percent compared to the year-ago period, which was more than double the 30.7 percent decline in February. Capacity fell 51.4 percent and load factor collapsed 23.4 percentage points to 57.1 percent.


covid-19-international-air-transport-association-says-traffic-demand-for-march-was-a-disasterEuropean carriers saw March demand fall 54.3 percent year-to-year. In February, traffic was virtually flat compared to February the prior year. Capacity dropped 42.9 percent, and load factor sank 16.8 percentage points to 67.6 percent, which was the highest among regions.


covid-19-international-air-transport-association-says-traffic-demand-for-march-was-a-disasterMiddle Eastern airlines posted a 45.9 percent traffic decrease in March, reversing a 1.6 percent increase in February. Capacity slid 33.5 percent, and load factor dropped 13.7 percentage points to 59.9 percent.


North-AmericaNorth American carriers’ traffic fell 53.7 percent compared to March a year ago, dramatically worsened from a 2.9 percent drop in February compared to February 2019. Capacity fell 38.1 percent, and load factor sank by 21.1 percentage points to 62.8 percent.


Latin-AmericaLatin American airlines experienced a 45.9 percent demand drop in March, compared to the same month last year. In February traffic declined 0.2 percent year-to-year. Capacity fell 33.5 percent and load factor sagged 15.3 percentage points to 66.5 percent.


covid-19-international-air-transport-association-says-traffic-demand-for-march-was-a-disasterAfrican airlines’ traffic fell 42.8 percent in March, which was a huge deterioration from a 1.1 percent decline in February. Capacity dropped 32.9 percent, and load factor contracted 10.5 percentage points to 60.8 percent.


Domestic Passenger Markets

Demand for domestic travel shrank 47.8 percent in March compared to March 2019 with double-digit percentage declines in all markets. This compared to a 21.3 percent year-to-year decline in February. Capacity fell 24.5 percent and load factor plunged 26.0 percentage points to 58.1 percent.

covid-19-international-air-transport-association-says-traffic-demand-for-march-was-a-disasterChinese airlines continued to see the steepest declines, with domestic demand down 65.5 percent in March compared to March 2019. This, however, was an improvement over the 85 percent year-to-year decline in February as the country began to re-open domestic air travel.


Japan’s airlinesJapan’s airlines recorded a 55.8 percent year-over-year decline in domestic RPKs, despite not implementing any widespread lockdown.




Download the latest issue of Asian Aviation here.

For Editorial Inquiries Contact:
Editor Matt Driskill at
For Advertising Inquiries Contact:
Head of Sales Kay Rolland at


AAV Media Kit
Previous articleUPDATED: Boeing posts Q1 loss of US$641 million
Next articleCOVID-19: UN’s ICAO creates ‘Aviation Recovery Task Force’ to help ‘re-boot’ industry
Asian Aviation
Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here