Mideast air travel shows signs of slow recovery: Iata

Last updated on May 5, 2021 at 02.28 pm

Keeping in line with the global air travel down trends, Middle Eastern demand fell 81.6 per cent in March 2021compared to March 2019, but improved over an 83.1 per cent demand drop in February 2021, versus the same month in 2019.

While passenger capacity for the regional carriers fell 67.2 per cent, and load factor declined 32.3 percentage points to 41.3 per cent, air cargo volume, dubbed the “bright spot for aviation” by the International Air Transport Association (Iata), recorded a 9.2 per cent upswing in March year-on -year.

Globally, passenger traffic fell in March compared to pre-Covid levels (March 2019) but rose compared to the immediate month prior (February 2021), Iata said.

Iata explained that as comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of Covid-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to March 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

Last month, Iata reduced by more than half its estimate of the net losses faced by the regional aviation sector in 2021, arguing that Middle Eastern carriers will benefit from relatively rapid vaccination rates on home markets.

The global airlines’ body said the region’s carriers would incur losses of 13.8 per cent of revenues as it warned that the across the world airlines could be facing combined losses of $47.7 billion in 2021 due to Covid-19. The global industry loss forecast for 2021 is a huge improvement on 2020’s eye-watering $126 billion sum.

In 2020, airlines in the Middle East lost $68.47 for every passenger they flew in 2020 compared to a loss globally of $66.04, according to Iata.

Total domestic demand worldwide 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, Iata said in its report.

Total demand for air travel measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs was down 67.2 per cent in March 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 traffic remained largely restricted.”

International passenger demand in March was 87.8 per cent below March 2019, a very small improvement from the 89 per cent decline recorded in February 2021 versus two years ago.

“The positive momentum we saw in some key domestic markets in March is an indication of the strong recovery we are anticipating 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,” said Willie Walsh, Iata’s director general.

He said affordable, timely and effective testing must be available as an alternative to vaccines in facilitating travel. “Furthermore, 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,” said Walsh.

In cargo movement, Middle East carriers posted the strongest growth, month-on-month, of all regions, up 4.4 per cent, Iata said. Of the region’s key international routes, Middle East-North America and Middle East-Asia have provided the most significant support, rising 28 per cent and 17 per cent respectively in March compared to March 2019. International capacity in March was down 12.4 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.


Issac John Editorial Director of Khaleej Times, is a well-connected Indian journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the UAE's mainstream journalism for 35 years, including 23 years with Khaleej Times. A post-graduate in English and graduate in economics, he has won over two dozen awards. Acclaimed for his authentic and insightful analysis of global and regional businesses and economic trends, he is respected for his astute understanding of the local business scene.