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Airlines record 73% traffic slump amid restrictions, quarantine

Airlines in Nigeria and other African countries have recorded 73.7 per cent slump in passenger traffic for the month of March 2021. The downturn, though a global trend, is not unconnected with travel restrictions and quarantine in many countries.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), in the March passenger traffic survey released yesterday, showed that African airlines’ traffic sank by 73.7 per cent in March versus March two years ago, marking a deterioration compared to a 72.3 per cent decline recorded in February compared to February 2019.

Globally, total demand for air travel was down 67.2 per cent compared to March 2019. That was an improvement over the 74.9 per cent decline recorded in February 2021 versus February 2019. The better performance was driven by gains in domestic markets, particularly China.

International passenger demand in March was 87.8 per cent below March 2019, a very small improvement from the 89.0 per cent decline recorded in February 2021 versus two years ago.

Total domestic demand was down 32.3 per cent versus pre-crisis levels (March 2019), greatly improved over February 2021, when domestic traffic was down 51.2 per cent versus the 2019 period. All markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared to February 2021, with China being the key contributor, as already noted.

IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, said the positive momentum in some key domestic markets in March was an indication of the strong recovery anticipated in international markets as travel restrictions are lifted.

“People want and need to fly. And we can be optimistic that they will do so when restrictions are removed,” Walsh said. Asia-Pacific airlines’ March international traffic was down 94.8 per cent compared to March 2019, barely better than the 95.4 per cent decline registered in February 2021 versus February 2019. The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for a ninth consecutive month. Capacity was down 87.0 per cent and the load factor sank 48.6 percentage points to 31.9 per cent, the lowest among regions.

European carriers recorded an 88.3 per cent decline in traffic in March versus March 2019, just slightly ahead of the 89.1 per cent decline in February compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 80.0 per cent and load factor fell by 35.0 percentage points to 49.4 per cent.

Walsh observed that the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and rising cases in some countries were behind governments’ reluctance to lift travel restrictions and quarantine.

“However, we are beginning to see positive developments, such as the recent announcement by European Commission President von der Leyen that vaccinated travellers from the U.S. will be allowed to enter the EU. At least 24 countries have already said they will welcome vaccinated travellers.

“We expect this to continue and gather momentum as vaccination numbers rise. However, governments should not rely only on vaccinations, as it risks discriminating against those individuals who are unable to get a vaccine for medical or other reasons, or who lack access to vaccines—a common situation in much of the world today. Affordable, timely and effective testing must be available as an alternative to vaccines in facilitating travel,” said Walsh.

He added that for as long as these health measures are required, governments need to accept digital COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates and to follow global standards for issuing their own vaccination certificates and test results.

“We are already seeing intolerable waits at some airports, as airlines, passengers and border control authorities are having to rely on paper processes at a time when airports are no longer designed to accommodate them. The IATA Travel Pass addresses this challenge by enabling travelers to control and share their digital vaccination certificate or test results with airlines and border authorities, easing facilitation and reducing the risk of fraudulent documents,” Walsh said.

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