Global air passenger traffic drop by 60% to 1.8 billion in 2020, compared to 4.5 billion in 2019




Global Air Passenger Traffic to Drop by 60% to 1.8 billion in 2020

av Jastra Kranjec ( )

23 December, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the airline industry, as countries worldwide shut down borders and limited travel to control the spread of the virus.

Massive cancellations of flights since the beginning of 2020 caused staggering losses to the world’s largest airline companies and huge drops in airline passenger traffic.

According to data presented by Aksje Bloggen, the global air passenger traffic is expected to drop by 60% to 1.8bn in 2020.

Air Passenger Traffic Below 2004 Levels, Scheduled Flights Down by 43.5% YoY in December
Before the coronavirus outbreak hit the globe, the airline industry grew at a steady pace across all countries. The International Air Transport Association data showed the number of scheduled passengers handled by the global airline industry had been increasing for the last 15 years and jumped from 1.9bn in 2004 to 4.5bn in 2019.

Such an impressive growth of air travel was caused by the rise of the middle class, growing airport infrastructure spending led by the Asia Pacific, and the surge of low-cost carriers, who almost doubled their market share in this period.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of scheduled passengers boarded by the global airline industry dropped to only 1.8 bn people in 2020, below 2004 levels. Statistics show this figure is expected to recover to 2.8bn in 2021, still 40% less than pre-COVID 19 estimations.

The OAG Schedules Analyser data revealed the number of scheduled flights worldwide was down by 43.5% YoY for the week starting December 14th. Analyzed by countries, Singapore witnessed the most significant drop in scheduled flights, 89% less compared to the same month a year ago.

Hong Kong ranked second with an 87.7% year-over-year drop. Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy follow, with 76.6%, 73.5%, and 69.5% decrease, respectively.

Commercial Airlines’ Passenger Revenue to Hit $287B in 2021, 50% Less than in 2019
Before the COVID-19, worldwide commercial airlines’ passenger revenues grew each year and jumped from $323bn in 2005 to $612bn in 2019. However, the International Air Transport Association data revealed staggering financial losses caused by the pandemic, with revenues expected to drop by 67% YoY to $191bn in 2020. In 2021, this figure is forecast to recover to $287bn, still only half the 2019 revenues.

Analyzed by regions, the European airports are expected to witness the biggest financial hit, with revenues plunging by $38.8bn due to the coronavirus outbreak. The revenues of the Asia Pacific airports are forecast to plunge by $27.6bn year-over-year. North American airports follow, with a $21bn drop, respectively.

Statistics show the government aids issued directly to airlines in response to the COVID-19 shock amounted to $161.9bn as of September. Almost $100bn was provided as direct aid, and the rest were wage subsidies, fuel charges, and corporate tax reliefs.



Compare this with the IATA press release on 6th February 2020 about the year in 2019:

Slower but Steady Growth in 2019


Date: 6 February 2020  (IATA)

Geneva – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2019 showing that demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose by 4.2% compared to the full year of 2018.

The 2019 result is a slowdown compared to 2018’s annual growth of 7.3% and marked the first year since the global financial crisis in 2009 with passenger demand below the long-term trend of around 5.5% annual growth. Full-year 2019 capacity climbed 3.4%, and the load factor rose 0.7 percentage point to a record high of 82.6%. The previous high was 81.9% set in 2018.

December 2019 RPKs increased 4.5% against the same month in 2018. That was an improvement over the 3.3% annual growth recorded in November, primarily due to solid demand in North America.

“Airlines did well to maintain steady growth last year in the face of a number of challenges. A softer economic backdrop, weak global trade activity, and political and geopolitical tensions took their toll on demand. Astute capacity management, and the effects of the 737 MAX grounding, contributed to another record load factor, helping the industry to manage through weaker demand and improving environmental performance,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Total Market
Asia Pacific
Latin America
Middle East
North America

1- % of industry RPKs in 2019 2- Year-on-year change in load factor 3-Load factor level

International Passenger Markets

2019 international passenger traffic climbed 4.1% compared to 2018, down from 7.1% annual growth the year before. Capacity rose 3.0% and load factor edged up 0.8 percentage point to 82.0%.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ full-year traffic increased 4.5% in 2019, which was a large decline compared to 8.5% growth in 2018. This reflected the impact of the US-China trade war as well as weakening business confidence and economic activity. Capacity rose 4.1%, and load factor ticked up 0.3 percentage point to 80.9%.

European carriers saw a 4.4% traffic rise in 2019, which was down from 7.5% annual growth in 2018. Capacity rose 3.7% and load factor increased 0.6 percentage point to 85.6%, which was the highest for any region. The lowered results are attributable to generally slowing economic activity; declining business confidence, compounded by industrial disputes (strikes); Brexit uncertainty and the collapse of a number of airlines.

Middle Eastern airlines’ passenger demand increased 2.6% last year, the slowest pace of expansion among all regions and down from 4.9% growth in 2018. However, demand began to recover in the fourth quarter and the monthly growth of 6.4% in December led all regions. Annual capacity climbed 0.1% and load factor surged 1.8 percentage points to 76.3%.

North American airlines saw traffic growth slow to 3.9% last year, down from 5.0% in 2018, amid softer US economic activity and weaker business confidence compared to 2018. Capacity climbed 2.2%, and load factor strengthened 1.3 percentage points to 84.0%, second highest among the regions.

Latin American airlines’ traffic climbed 3.0% in 2019, a dramatic slowdown compared to 7.5% annual growth in 2018. Capacity rose 1.6% and load factor increased by 1.1 percentage points to 82.9%. The year was impacted by social unrest and economic difficulties in a number of countries in the region.

African airlines led all regions with a 5.0% demand increase, down from 6.3% growth recorded for 2018. Capacity rose 4.5%, and load factor edged up 0.3 percentage point to 71.3%. Airlines in the region benefitted from a generally supportive economic backdrop in 2019 as well as increases in air transport connectivity.

… and it continues ….

The Bottom Line

“2019 was a difficult year for aviation and 2020 is off to a tragic and challenging beginning.

The shooting down of PS 752 in January was inexcusable. Commercial aircraft are instruments of peace, not military targets. To honor the victims of this tragedy we must address this challenge with governments and stakeholders. Our thoughts are also with the injured, and the families of those who lost their lives, in the PC2193 accident in Turkey yesterday. Safety is the aviation industry’s number one priority and we are united in our desire to understand and learn from the circumstances of this tragedy.

[To view with the benefit of hindsight:]  Today, headlines are also focused on the novel coronavirus. From our experience of past outbreaks, airlines have well-developed standards and best practices to keep travel safe. And airlines are assisting the World Health Organization (WHO) and public health authorities in efforts to contain the outbreak in line with the International Health Regulations. There currently is no advice from WHO to restrict travel or trade. But it is clear that demand has fallen on routes associated with China, and airlines are responding to this by cutting capacity for both domestic and international China. The situation is evolving fast, but we are observing significant schedules adjustments for February.” said de Juniac.

Read the full Air Passenger Market Analysis for December 2019 (pdf)



IATA data

Sky News.

Britain’s Biggest Polluters.

? December 2020


The UK has pledged that by 2050, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by all the cars, homes and industry in the country will be net zero – which means that for every tonne produced, a tonne must be extracted from the atmosphere.


Long article – this is part of the section on aviation.


Experts say technologies exist that could cut the carbon footprint of firms like easyJet and BA, but they are developing slowly.

One idea is electric planes.

But Prof Piers Forster, Professor of Physical Climate Change at the University of Leeds and a member of the government’s independent advisory group the Committee for Climate Change, told Sky News that could be 20 years away.

There are other ways round the problem, like: flying more slowly, which reduces the amount of CO2 released; and carbon capture, on the ground, of the CO2 emitted in the air. But both of those present further problems.

The long-term solution may be what’s called ‘sustainable aviation fuels’: synthetic fuels manufactured from crops, or other natural or waste material.

While some airports around the world are already using these fuels, uptake is slow and a 2020 report from the industry suggested progress on bringing new fuels to market was “lengthy”.

Prof Forster said there are other problems.

He added: “If you talk to the industry, they are putting all their eggs into the basket of sustainable aviation fuels and offsetting – they’re going to offset some of it, but we aren’t convinced it will work that well – so apart from that, sustainable aviation fuels are what they’re talking about.

“They could potentially work, but the thing is, they take huge amounts of energy to produce. You have to put four or five times the (amount of) energy into them to create them. If we’re using all these synthetic fuels for aviation, we’re going to have to increase our electricity supply much more.”

He said it all has profound implications for the future of air travel.