INTERNATIONAL. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced a moderate rebound in air travel in September 2021 in comparison to the numbers recorded in August.

The airlines group said this was driven by recovery in domestic markets, in particular China, where some travel curbs were lifted following the COVID-19 outbreaks in August.

Numbers for international and domestic traffic combined by region in September 2021 compared to the same month of 2019 (click to enlarge)

Total demand for air travel in September 2021 was down -53.4% compared to pre-pandemic September 2019 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs). This marked an improvement from August, when demand was -56% below August 2019 levels.  

Overall international air passenger demand, IATA noted, slipped slightly compared to the previous month. The number in September was -69.2% below September 2019, slightly worse than the -68.7% decline recorded in August.

Domestic markets, meanwhile, were down -24.3% for air passenger traffic compared to September 2019. This, however, was a notable improvement from August 2021, when traffic was down -32.6% versus two years ago.

The performance of key domestic air travel markets in September (click to enlarge)

All domestic markets showed improvement with the exception of Japan and Russia, although IATA noted that the latter remained in solid growth territory compared to 2019.

Reflecting on the numbers, IATA Director General Willie Walsh said: “September’s performance is a positive development but recovery in international traffic remains stalled amid continuing border closures and quarantine mandates.

“The recent US policy change to reopen travel from 33 markets for fully vaccinated foreigners from 8 November is a welcome, if long overdue, development. Along with recent reopenings in other key markets like Australia, Argentina, Thailand, and Singapore this should give a boost to the large-scale restoration of the freedom to travel.”

International RPK growth by region for September and August 2021 versus the same months in 2019 (click to enlarge)

He added: “Each re-opening announcement seems to come with similar but different rules. We cannot let the recovery get bogged down in complication. The ICAO High Level Conference on COVID-19 agreed that harmonisation should be a priority.

“The G20 declared a commitment to take action to support a recovery with seamless travel, sustainability, and digitalisation. Now governments must put actions behind these words to realise simple and effective measures. People, jobs, businesses and economies are counting on real progress.”

This graph clearly shows the positive effects of US announcements on the lifting of travel restrictions for air travel demand (click to enlarge)

International passenger markets by region

European carriers’ September international traffic declined -56.9% versus September 2019, down 1 percentage point compared to the -55.9% decrease in August versus the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped -46.3% and load factor fell -17.2 percentage points to 69.6%.

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their September international traffic fall -93.2% compared to September 2019, virtually unchanged from the -93.4% drop registered in August 2021 versus August 2019 as the region continues to have the strictest border control measures. Capacity dropped -85.2% and the load factor was down -42.3 percentage points to 36.2%, easily the lowest among regions.

Middle Eastern airlines had a -67.1% demand drop in September compared to September 2019, slightly improved over the -68.9% decrease in August, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined -52.6%, and load factor slipped -23.1 percentage points to 52.2%.

North American carriers experienced a -61% traffic drop in September versus the 2019 period, somewhat improved on the -59.3% decline in August compared to August 2019. Capacity dropped -47.6%, and load factor fell -21.3 percentage points to 61.9%.

Latin American airlines saw a -61.3% drop in September traffic, compared to the same month in 2019, an upturn over the -62.6% decline in August compared to August 2019. September capacity fell -55.6% and load factor dropped -10.7 percentage points to 72.0%, which was the highest load factor among the regions for the 12th consecutive month.

African airlines’ traffic fell -62.2% in September versus two years ago, almost 4 percentage points worse than the -58.5% decline in August compared to August 2019. September capacity was down -49.3% and load factor declined -18.4 percentage points to 53.7%.

View the full IATA September Air Passenger Market Analysis, including 2021 vs. 2020 comparisons, here.

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