Africa air passenger traffic fell by 66pc as global losses topped $126b in 2020

Tuesday August 10 2021
The Tunis-Carthage International Airport in the Tunisian capital.

The Tunis-Carthage International Airport in the Tunisian capital. According to AFRAA, northern Africa accounted for the largest volume of passengers in Africa. PHOTO | AFP


Air passenger traffic in Africa fell by 65.7 percent in 2020 as the global air transport industry witnessed the steepest fall in 70 years. Global industry losses topped $126 billion for the year, as disruption by Covid-19 impacted demand and the number of aircraft operated by airlines.

The grim numbers form part of the highlights of the International Air Transport Association’s World Air Transport Statistics report, released in Montreal recently. Only 1.8 billion passengers travelled by air during the year representing a 60.2 percent decline from the 4.5 billion that flew in 2019.

African airlines carried 34.3 million passengers during the year, representing 65.7 percent fall from the 95 million carried in 2019. The numbers represent the worst performance since the International Air Transport Association (IATA) started tracking global traffic demand in 1950.

Composite demand for air travel slipped by 65.9 percent year-on-year while the international segment saw a 75.6 percent decrease relative to 2019. The domestic sector fared better shrinking by 48.8 percent over 2019 as the number of international routes fell two-thirds.

Head of IATA Willie Walsh said that while “2020 was a year that we’d all like to forget,” the statistics for the year reveal “an amazing story of perseverance.” He said that 66 percent of the world’s commercial air transport fleet was grounded at the height of the crisis in April 2020, as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines.

“A million jobs disappeared. And industry losses for the year totalled $126 billion,” said Mr Walsh.


Airlines lost $71.7 per passenger on average, taking losses by African airlines to $10.21 billion during the year. Globally, passenger revenues fell by 69 percent to $189 billion while net losses topped $126.4 billion.

The Middle East region lost the most passengers with a 71.5 percent drop in revenue passenger per kilometre followed by Europe at -69.7 percent and the Africa continent at -68.5 percent. Asia pacific carried 780.7 million passengers followed by North America at 401.7 million, Europe 389.9 million, Latin America 123.6 million and the Middle East and Africa at 76.8 and 34.3 million respectively.

The pandemic also saw China rise to the top of the domestic market for the first time in history following a faster recovery in their domestic market on the back of a more robust Covid-19 control effort. According to the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), northern Africa accounted for the largest volume of passengers in Africa, representing nearly 37 percent of total continental traffic, followed by eastern Africa at 22.2 percent and southern Africa at 21 percent. Central and West Africa accounted for 19.7 percent.

While Johannesburg and Cairo maintained their ranks as the busiest airports in Africa during 2020, Jomo Kenyatta International handled 330,000 tonnes of cargo, making it the biggest cargo hub on the continent. Nairobi was followed by Cairo International, which handled 280,000 tonnes.

Forty-three percent of traffic carried by African airlines during 2020 was domestic while 38 percent was intercontinental and 19 percent intra-African. At 21 percent, Europe remained the major destination for African airlines during the year.