African airlines’ traffic fell 69.8% last year compared to 2019, which, although devastating for aviation, was still the best performance among regions. African airlines capacity dropped 61.5%, and load factor sank 15.4 percentage points to 55.9%, lowest among all regions.
African demand for the month of December was 68.8% below the year-ago period, well ahead of a 75.8% decline in November. Carriers on the continent have benefitted from somewhat less severe international travel restrictions compared to the rest of the world.
These figures are according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) who availed full-year global passenger traffic results for 2020 showing that demand (revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) fell by 65.9% compared to the full year of 2019, by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history.
Furthermore, forward bookings have been falling sharply since late December.
International passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6% below 2019 levels. Capacity, (measured in available seat kilometres or ASKs) declined 68.1% and load factor fell 19.2 percentage points to 62.8%.
Moreover, domestic demand in 2020 was down 48.8% compared to 2019. Capacity contracted by 35.7% and load factor dropped 17 percentage points to 66.6%.
December 2020 total traffic was 69.7% below the same month in 2019, little improved from the 70.4% contraction in November. Capacity was down 56.7% and load factor fell 24.6 percentage points to 57.5%.
Bookings for future travel made in January 2021 were down 70% compared to a year ago, putting further pressure on airline cash positions and potentially impacting the timing of the expected recovery.
IATA’s baseline forecast for 2021 is for a 50.4% improvement on 2020 demand that would bring the industry to 50.6% of 2019 levels. While this view remains unchanged, there is severe downside risk if more severe travel restrictions in response to new variants persist.
Should such a scenario materialize, demand improvement could be limited to just 13% over 2020 levels, leaving the industry at 38% of 2019 levels.
“Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it. What recovery there was over the Northern hemisphere summer season stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season, as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of Covid-19.” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.