Alexandre de Juniac, Iata Director General and CEO.

Iata has downgraded its traffic forecast for 2020 to reflect a weaker-than-expected recovery, as evidenced by a dismal end to the summer travel season in the Northern hemisphere.

The airline association now expects full-year 2020 traffic to be down 66% compared with 2019. The previous estimate was for a 63% decline.

August passenger demand continued to be hugely depressed against normal levels, with revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) down 75.3% compared with August 2019. This was only slightly improved compared with the 79.5% annual contraction in July.

Domestic markets continued to outperform international markets in terms of recovery, although most remained substantially down on a year ago. August capacity (available seat kilometres or ASKs) was down 63.8% compared with a year ago, and load factor plunged 27.2 points to an all-time low for August of 58.5%.

Based on flight data, the recovery in air passenger services was brought to a halt in mid-August by a return of government restrictions in the face of new COVID-19 outbreaks in a number of key markets. Forward bookings for air travel in the fourth quarter show that the recovery since the April low point will continue to falter.

Whereas the decline in year-on-year growth of global RPKs was expected to have moderated to 55% by December, a much slower improvement is now expected, with December forecast to be down 68% on a year ago.

“August’s disastrous traffic performance puts a cap on the industry’s worst-ever summer season. International demand recovery is virtually non-existent and domestic markets in Australia and Japan actually regressed in the face of new outbreaks and travel restrictions.

“A few months ago, we thought that a full-year fall in demand of 63% compared with 2019 was as bad as it could get. With the dismal peak summer travel period behind us, we have revised our expectations downward to 66%,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata DG and CEO.

African airlines’ traffic sank 90.1% in August, slightly improved over a 94.6% decline in July. Capacity contracted 78.4%, and load factors fell 41.0 percentage points to 34.6%, which was the lowest among regions.