April 15, 2024

Eurocean 2004

Life is an adventure

Perseverance pulled airlines through worst year on record

“2020 was a year that we’d all like to forget. But analysing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance,” said Willie Walsh director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA)

He was commenting on the resilience of the industry in navigating the challenges of the past year when releasing the IATA World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) publication with performance figures for 2020 demonstrating the devastating effects on global air transport.

“At the
depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} 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 totalled $126 billion,” he added.

“Many governments recognised 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.”

Willie Walsh said rapid actions by airlines and commitment by the people saw the airline industry through the most difficult year in its history. (Image credit: IATA)

Here are the key 2020 airline performance figures from WATS


  • Systemwide, airlines carried 1.8 billion passengers on scheduled services, a decrease of 60.2{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} 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 kilometres), global airline capacity plummeted by 56.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9}, with international capacity being hit the hardest with a reduction of 68.3{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9}
  • Systemwide passenger load factor dropped to 65.1{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} in 2020, compared to 82.5{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} the year prior
  • The Middle East region suffered the largest proportion of loss for passenger traffic*with a drop of 71.5{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} in RPKs versus 2019, followed by Europe (-69.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9}) and the Africa region (-68.5{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9})
  • 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):

  1. Asia-Pacific: 780.7 million passengers, a decrease of 53.4{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} compared to the region’s passengers in 2019
  2. North America: 401.7 million passengers, down 60.8{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} over 2019
  3. Europe: 389.9 million passengers, down 67.4{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} over 2019
  4. Latin America: 123.6 million passengers, down 60.6{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} over 2019
  5. Middle East: 8 million passengers, a decrease of 67.6{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} over 2019
  6. Africa: 34.3 million passengers, down 65.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} over 2019

The top five airlines ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometres flown:

  1. American Airlines (124 billion)
  2. China Southern Airlines (110.7 billion)
  3. Delta Air Lines (106.5 billion)
  4. United Airlines (100.2 billion)
  5. 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:

  1. Within Europe (290.3 million, down 70.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)
  2. Europe-North America (122.9 million, decreased 80.4{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)
  3. Within Far East (117.3 million, a decrease of 84.1{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)
  4. Europe-Far East (115.3 million, a decrease of 79{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)
  5. Middle East-Far East (104 million, down 73.6{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} 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:

  1. Jeju-Seoul Gimpo (10.2 million, up 35.1{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} over 2019)
  2. Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City (5.9 million, an increase of 54.3{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)
  3. Shanghai (Hongqiao)–Shenzhen (3.7 million, up 43.4{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)
  4. Beijing (Capital)-Shanghai (Hongqiao) (3.6 million, increased by 11.8{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)
  5. Guangzhou-Shanghai-Hongqiao (3.5 million, up 41.2{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} from 2019)

The top five nationalities travelling by air (international):

  1. United States (45.7 million or 9.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} of all passengers)
  2. United Kingdom (40.8 million or 8.6{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} of all passengers)
  3. Germany (30.8 million or 6.5{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} of all passengers)
  4. France (23.3 million or 4.9{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} of all passengers)
  5. India (17.4 million or 3.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} 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

• (PPE) and vital medical supplies, despite the massive drop in capacity from the bellies of passenger aircraft.

• Industry-wide available cargo tonne-kilometres (ACTKs) fell 21.4{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} year-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{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9}. This is the highest value in the IATA series started in 1990.

• At the end of the year industry-wide cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs) has 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{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} year-on-year in 2020.

• The top five airlines ranked by scheduled cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs) flown:

  1. Federal Express (19.7 billion)
  2. United Parcel Service (14.4 billion)
  3. Qatar Airways (13.7 billion)
  4. Emirates (9.6 billion)
  5. Cathay Pacific Airways (8.1 billion)

Airline alliances

Star Alliance maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2020 with 18.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9} of total scheduled traffic (in RPKs), followed by SkyTeam (16.3{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9}) and oneworld (12.7{46dd52bca0123ad67b2d1222819e83fd0a56e45ca5068239f05f0c514f1e20f9}).

Featured image credit: kafl/Getty Images