A travel industry recovery has begun but risk-averse governments are causing international travel “to lag significantly”, says Iata chief Willie Walsh.
Iata director general Walsh highlighted “a strong performance” in cargo and domestic markets in Iata’s latest traffic update.
But he said: “International travel is still only 20% of where it was in 2019 when there is clear evidence of the success of the vaccines roll out.”
Walsh argued: “Recovery has definitely started. There are signs of things moving and restrictions being lifted. We’re at a point where it’s reasonable to be optimistic. But international travel continues to lag significantly.
“In Asia we see a very slow appreciation of the fact that zero Covid is not an option. We see a very risk-averse policy in Australia where the government has shut the country.
“The hope of a significant revival in international traffic during the Northern Hemisphere summer grows fainter with each passing day.”
He noted: “The current UK seven-day average [for new Covid cases] is 482 per 100,000 and they’re opening everything. The Australian seven-day average is seven and they’re shutting everything down.”
Walsh added: “We’re not yet seeing measures for people who have not been vaccinated [and] it would be great to avoid the unnecessary expense of testing. We don’t need to continue with expensive PCR tests.”
Iata chief economist Ezgi Gulbas reported international air travel in the first half of the year remained 86% down on 2019, but global domestic travel was only 33% down.
She said: “There is progress in vaccination but not in removal of restrictions on international travel. Three out of four countries had strict restrictions on international travel in June.”
Iata reported a “slight improvement” in passenger demand in June but it remained significantly below pre-Covid-19 levels.
Global demand was down 60% compared with 2019, an improvement from 63% in May. But international demand in the month was 81% below June 2019 while domestic demand was down just 22%.
Walsh said: “International travel is nowhere near where we need to be. June should be the start of peak season. It is a continuing crisis caused by government inaction.”
Asia-Pacific airlines’ June international traffic was down almost 95% compared with 2019, unchanged from May, making Asia-Pacific the region with the steepest traffic decline for an eleventh consecutive month.
Capacity in the region was down 87% and the average load factor just 33% – the lowest anywhere.
European carriers recorded June international traffic down 77% on 2019 compared with 85% down in May. Capacity remained 67% down and the average load factor almost 61%.
Middle East carriers saw a 79% drop in demand on 2019 compared with 81% in May. Capacity was 65% down and load factors averaged 45%.
North American airlines’ traffic was down almost 70% on 2019 compared with 74% in May, with capacity down 57%, and the average load factor 63%.
The major domestic markets did much better although China recorded an 11% fall in domestic traffic in June as new Covid restrictions were introduced in several cities.
US domestic traffic was down just 15% on 2019 having been 25% down in May.