Middle East air travel demand remains 67% below pre-Covid levels

New International Air Transport Association figures reveal ongoing impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on regional aviation

Middle East-based airlines registered a 67.1 percent drop in passenger demand in September compared to September 2019 as the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh on performance.

The figure was slightly improved over the 68.9 percent decrease in August but was worse that the global average, according to latest data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

It added that regional capacity declined 52.6 percent and load factor slipped 23.1 percent to 52.2 percent.

Last month, IATA said Middle East carriers are expected to see a very limited improvement in their financial performance from a $6.8 billion loss in 2021 to a $4.6 billion loss in 2022.

According to its latest outlook for the airline industry, without large domestic markets, the region’s major carriers rely significantly on connecting traffic, especially to Asia-Pacific which has been slow to re-open to international traffic.

Globally, total demand for air travel in September was down 53.4 percent compared to September 2019. This marked an uptick from August, when demand was 56.0% below August 2019 levels. Domestic markets were down 24.3 percent compared to September 2019 but international passenger demand was 69.2 percent worse off over the same period.

Willie Walsh (pictured above), IATA’s director general, said: “September’s performance is a positive development but recovery in international traffic remains stalled amid continuing border closures and quarantine mandates. The recent US policy change to reopen travel from 33 markets for fully vaccinated foreigners from November 8 is a welcome, if long overdue, development.

“Along with recent re-openings in other key markets like Australia, Argentina, Thailand, and Singapore this should give a boost to the large-scale restoration of the freedom to travel,” he added.

Separately, IATA said Middle East carriers experienced a 17.6 percent rise in international cargo volumes in September versus September 2019, an improvement compared to the previous month (14.7 percent). It added that international capacity was down 4 percent compared to September 2019.

Global air cargo demand was up 9.1 percent compared to September 2019 while capacity remained constrained at 8.9 percent below pre-Covid-19 levels.

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