January 2021 global passenger demand fell 72 percent from the pre-pandemic level in January 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association, a bigger drop than the 69.7 year-over-year decline recorded in December. “2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended, and that is saying a lot,” said IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac in a statement. Compared with January 2019, global capacity in January 2021 was down 58.7 percent and load factor dropped 25.7 percentage points to 54.1 percent.
Travel continues to be hamstrung by the latest restrictions countries have implemented, according to IATA. “Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new Covid variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions,” said de Juniac. “The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Forward bookings in February this year for the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78 percent below levels in February 2019.”
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Crossborder passenger demand in January was 85.6 percent below January 2019, a further drop from the the 85.3 percent year-over-year decline recorded in December. January capacity fell 74.4 percent from January 2019, and load factor fell 35 percentage points to 44.9 percent.
Domestic passenger demand fell 47.4 percent from January 2019, compared with a 42.9 percent year over year drop in December. This weakening largely was driven by stricter domestic travel controls in China over the Lunar New Year holiday period, according to IATA. Capacity in January dropped 30.5 percent from January 2019 levels, and load factor stood at 60.1 percent, down 19.3 percentage points.
In the wake of the pessimistic numbers, IATA revised its outlook for the aviation industry’s financial performance. “Financial prospects for the year are worsening as governments tighten travel restrictions,” de Juniac said. “We now expect the industry to burn through $75-$95 billion in cash this year, rather than turning cash positive in the fourth quarter, as previously thought. This is not something that the industry will be able to endure without additional relief measures from governments.”