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January Passenger Demand Hits New Lows, While Air Cargo Thrives

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January 2021 was a month of highs and lows for the aviation industry, according to new data from the International Air Transport Association. While total demand for passenger travel was down by 72 percent compared to January 2019, air cargo demand jumped to pre-pandemic levels.

New aviation industry data paints two pictures of the industry from January 2021. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), while air cargo demand was up to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, passenger traffic demand continued to drop even lower.

Passenger Demand Off By 72 Percent, While Cargo Returns to Normal

The total passenger demand in January 2021 reached a new low, as measured by revenue passenger kilometers. Global demand for the month was down by 72 percent compared to January 2019, a decrease of three-tenths compared to the low set in December 2020.

Driving the depression was a lack of international passenger traffic, which was down over 85 percent compared to January 2019. Although domestic travel markets were less affected, the demand still dropped by 47.4 percent compared to the same month in 2019.

Although increased mobilization on COVID-19 vaccines is providing optimism, the IATA says that uncertainty around new variants is creating concern. Without clear guidance on when travel can figuratively “return to normal,” passenger demand may continue to crash.

“2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot,” IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said in a press release. “Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new COVID variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions. The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel.”

While passenger traffic may have been a bust, the need for air cargo transports was booming. Data from the IATA shows that global demand, as measured by cargo ton-kilometers increased by 1.1 percent compared to January 2019, and was up by three percent compared to December 2020. As the manufacturing sector contlines to recover and new export orders increase, the air cargo side of business is in a healthier place.

Early Data for February Suggests Sluggish Summer Travel Season

Although the United States is expected to have over 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses available by May 2021, flyers are being hesitant about booking their future trips. IATA data further suggests that bookings made in February 2021 for the summer travel season in the Northern Hemisphere are down by 78 percent, compared to the same month in 2019.