Government-imposed travel restrictions continued to stall global passenger demand, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported.
On the other hand, domestic travel demand improved this April 2021 despite remaining well below pre-pandemic levels.
“The continuing strong recovery in domestic markets tells us that when people are given the freedom to fly, they take advantage of it,” observed IATA Director General Willie Walsh.
“Unfortunately, that freedom still does not exist in most international markets. When it does, I’m confident we will see a similar resurgence in demand,” he underscored.
Total demand for air travel in April 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) plunged 65.4% versus April 2019.
(Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted, IATA made all comparisons against April 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.)
Still, it was an improvement over the 66.9% decline recorded in March 2021 versus March 2019.
Gains in most domestic markets drove the better performance.
Nevertheless, international passenger demand in April was 87.3% below April 2019, little changed from the 87.8% decline recorded in March 2021 versus two years ago.
Total domestic demand was down 25.7% versus pre-crisis levels (April 2019), much improved over March 2021, when domestic traffic was down 31.6% versus the 2019 period.
As with March, all markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared to March 2021, with both China and Russia reporting traffic growth compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ April international traffic plummeted 94.4% compared to April 2019, incrementally improved compared to the 94.9% decline registered in March 2021 versus March 2019.
The region experienced the steepest traffic declines for the ninth consecutive month.
Capacity was down 86.3% and the load factor sank 47.7 percentage points to 33.5%, the lowest among regions.
Middle Eastern airlines posted an 82.9% demand drop in April compared to April 2019, which was weaker than the 81.6% decline in March, versus the same month in 2019.
Capacity declined 65.3%, and load factor fell 41.1 percentage points to 39.6%.
China’s domestic traffic returned to pre-crisis levels of growth, with demand up 6.8% in April compared to April 2019.
In March, demand was flat compared to the same month two years ago.
“As we enter the peak summer travel season in the Northern Hemisphere, we know that many people want to enjoy their freedom to travel. But for that to happen safely and efficiently amid the COVID-19 crisis, a more targeted approach is needed,” Walsh underscored.
“Most government policies today default to the closing of borders. After a year-and-a-half of COVID-19 there is sufficient data for governments to manage the risks of COVID-19 without blanket travel bans.”
He cited findings from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the other institutions showing that vaccinated travelers pose very little risk to the local population and pre-departure testing largely removes the risk of unvaccinated travelers importing COVID.
Governments are naturally risk-averse, but successfully managing risk is aviation’s bread and butter, he argued.
“With indications that COVID-19 is becoming endemic, governments and industry must work together to rebuild global connectivity while managing the associated risks.”
“Safely restoring travel freedom and reconnecting countries will drive economic growth and job creation,” Walsh concluded.

Source: Manila Bulletin (