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Airline industry statistics confirm 2020 was worst year on record – IATA

The International Air Transport Association released the IATA World Air Transport Statistics publication with performance figures for 2020 demonstrating the devastating effects on global air transport during that year of the COVID-19 crisis:

  • 1.8 billion passengers flew in 2020, a decrease of 60.2 per cent compared to the 4.5 billion who flew in 2019
  • Industry-wide air travel demand (measured in revenue passenger-kilometers, or RPKs) dropped by 65.9 per cent year-on-year
  • International passenger demand (RPKs) decreased by 75.6 per cent compared to the year prior
  • Domestic air passenger demand (RPKs) dropped by 48.8 per cent compared to 2019
  • Air connectivity declined by more than half in 2020 with the number of routes connecting airports falling dramatically at the outset of the crisis and was down more than 60 per cent year-on-year in April 2020
  • Total industry passenger revenues fell by 69 per cent to $189 billion in 2020, and net losses were $126.4 billion in total

The decline in air passengers transported in 2020 was the largest recorded since global RPKs started being tracked around 1950

"2020 was a year that we’d all like to forget. But analyzing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance. At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66 per cent of the world’s commercial air transport fleet was grounded as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines. A million jobs disappeared. And industry losses for the year totaled $126 billion. Many governments recognized aviation’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support. But it was the rapid actions by airlines and the commitment of our people that saw the airline industry through the most difficult year in its history," says IATA director general Willie Walsh.

Key 2020 airline performance figures from WATS:


Systemwide, airlines carried 1.8 billion passengers on scheduled services, a decrease of 60.2 per cent over 2019.

On average, there was a $71.7 loss incurred per passenger in 2020, corresponding to net losses of $126.4 billion in total.

Measured in ASKs (available seat kilometers), global airline capacity plummeted by 56.7 per cent, with international capacity being hit the hardest with a reduction of 68.3 per cent.

Systemwide passenger load factor dropped to 65.1 per cent in 2020, compared to 82.5 per centthe year prior.

The Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic – with a drop of 71.5 per cent in RPKs versus 2019, followed by Europe (-69.7 per cent) and the Africa region (-68.5 per cent).

China became the largest domestic market in 2020 for the first time on record, as air travel rebounded faster in their domestic market following their efforts to control COVID-19.

The regional rankings (based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines registered in that region) are:

  • Asia-Pacific: 780.7 million passengers, a decrease of 53.4 per cent compared to the region's passengers in 2019
  • North America: 401.7 million passengers, down 60.8 per cent over 2019
  • Europe: 389.9 million passengers, down 67.4 per cent over 2019
  • Latin America: 123.6 million passengers, down 60.6 per cent over 2019
  • Middle East: 76.8 million passengers, a decrease of 67.6 per cent over 2019
  • Africa: 34.3 million passengers, down 65.7 per cent over 2019

The top five airlines ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometers flown, were:

  • American Airlines (124 billion)
  • China Southern Airlines (110.7 billion)
  • Delta Air Lines (106.5 billion)
  • United Airlines (100.2 billion)
  • China Eastern Airlines (88.7 billion)

The top five route areas– by passenger demand (RPKs), with the largest drop being seen in routes within the Far East:

  • Within Europe (290.3 million, down 70.7 per cent from 2019)
  • Europe – North America (122.9 million, decreased 80.4 per cent from 2019)
  • Within Far East (117.3 million, a decrease of 84.1 per cent from 2019)
  • Europe – Far East (115.3 million, a decrease of 79 per cent from 2019)
  • Middle East – Far East (104 million, down 73.6 per cent from 2019)

The top five domestic passenger airport-pairs were all in Asia and outperformed top international routes as domestic recovery returned faster, particularly in China:

  • Jeju – Seoul Gimpo (10.2 million, up 35.1 per cent over 2019)
  • Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City (5.9 million, an increase of 54.3 per cent from 2019)
  • Shanghai-Hongqiao – Shenzhen (3.7 million, up 43.4 per cent from 2019)
  • Beijing-Capital – Shanghai-Hongqiao (3.6 million, increased by 11.8 per cent from 2019)
  • Guangzhou – Shanghai-Hongqiao (3.5 million, up 41.2 per cent from 2019)

The top five nationalities— traveling by air (international) were:

  • United States (45.7 million, or 9.7 per cent of all passengers)
  • United Kingdom (40.8 million, or 8.6 per cent of all passengers)
  • Germany (30.8 million, or 6.5 per cent of all passengers)
  • France (23.3 million, or 4.9 per cent of all passengers)
  • India (17.4 million, or 3.7 per cent of all passengers)


Air freight was the bright spot in air transport for 2020, as the market adapted to keep goods moving-including vaccines, personal protective equipment and vital medical supplies-despite the massive drop in capacity from the bellies of passenger aircraft.

Industry-wide available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs) fell 21.4 per cent -on-year in 2020.

This led to a capacity crunch, with the industry-wide cargo load factor up 7.0 percentage points to 53.8 per cent. This is the highest value in the IATA series started in 1990.

At the end of the year, industry-wide cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) had returned close to pre-crisis values. However, the yearly decline in cargo demand (CTKs) was still the largest since the Global Financial Crisis in 2009, at a sizeable 9.7 per cent year-on-year in 2020.

The top five airlines ranked by scheduled cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) flown were:

  • Federal Express (19.7 billion)
  • United Parcel Service (14.4 billion)
  • Qatar Airways (13.7 billion)
  • Emirates (9.6 billion)
  • Cathay Pacific Airways (8.1 billion)

Airline Alliances

Star Alliance maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2020 with 18.7 per cent of total scheduled traffic (in RPKs), followed by SkyTeam (16.3 per cent) and oneworld (12.7 per cent).

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