Aviation in Latin America and the Caribbean: resilience and new challenges

Commercial aviation in the region has passed through different states since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Much work has been done by different industry players to keep connectivity alive and still see with some optimism the long-awaited recovery in the medium term.

The Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) announced that airlines operating in the Latin American and Caribbean market transported 15.5 million passengers in February, 55.7% less (19,495,329 fewer passengers) compared to the previous year. Traffic (RPK) decreased 66.4% and capacity (ASK) decreased 54.4%, bringing the load factor to 58.8%, 21.1 percentage points less than in 2020.

4,362,025 passengers traveled to and from Latin America and the Caribbean in February, 63.1% less than the previous year (see table 2). Traffic (RPK) was down 72.5% and capacity (ASK) was down 57.8%, bringing load factor to 52%.

Jose Ricardo Botelho, Executive Director and CEO of ALTA (Latin American Air Transport Association) published affirmed: "In the month of February a slowdown in the recovery path that had been taking place at the end of 2020 in the region was again evidenced. As a reference, in January 2021 the fall vs. January 2020 was 46.6%, while in February 2021 the fall reached 55.7% vs. February 2020. This represents the change in the trend that the months in which slowly we were approaching the levels of 2019, towards a month with a greater drop than the immediately previous month."

"The data supports the results of recent passenger surveys. International traffic has been the hardest hit with a fall of 66.7% in February, while domestic traffic reached a fall of 46.6%. Passengers have indicated that they will not travel if there is one. a possibility of quarantine. This has intensified with the re-impositions of measures in the region. As long as the virus is contained as vaccination campaigns advance and restrictions are lifted, people will travel again. An example of this is Australia, where in February there was a marked recovery in the domestic market with 20.5 percentage points vs. January 2021."

"With the exception of Chile, the population in the region still has a low vaccination rate, with disparity in the times when countries will achieve immunity. This could make the process of reactivating international travel uncoordinated and prolonged. Therefore, it is important to consider that vaccination is a long-term solution. In the short term, other efficient alternatives should be considered to allow mobility. Rapid tests have proven to be an effective alternative to avoid importing infections and at a marginal economic cost compared to to the possibility of closing the skies to international air transport."

"The recognition between States of tests and vaccines is key. States must agree standards of acceptance and security in order that health credentials are recognized when landing abroad. In this sense, on behalf of the industry we continue to send a unified message to the States on the importance of working together in planning the restart of operations to generate confidence in travelers, guarantee safety and reactivate millions of jobs." 

ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano told Latin American civil aviation leaders today that the sector should face a number of challenges as air travel begins to return to normal.

The president's comments were part of his opening remarks to the Hermes air transport event on 'Resilience and Efficiency through Leadership and Cooperation' in the post-COVID era for Latin American aviation.

"We are back to 2003 levels in terms of global seating capacity," said President Sciacchitano, explaining that ICAO projects an overall global passenger reduction of between forty-one and fifty percent by 2021, in compared to the sixty percent reduction that he monitored. by 2020.

"The significant falls that are being supported in global and regional air travel continue to present serious liquidity tensions for companies and suppliers," he emphasized, "and throughout the air transport and tourism value chains. ”.

Most of the President's comments underscored how the ICAO Council's Aviation Recovery Working Group (CART) has been proactively considering the challenges that now lie ahead. He explained that his latest Phase III response and recovery recommendations had identified new priorities to help international alignment of measures and promote more effective public-private cooperation between governments and industry.

“This last phase of CART's guidance and recommendations has focused on specific issues related to States' multi-layered risk management strategies. It supports the creation of public health travel corridors, promotes safe and efficient global distribution of vaccines and multilateral air cargo services, and encourages standardized COVID-19 test certificates for safe international use, ”confirmed the president.

"They also include updated considerations on aircrew vaccination, safety priorities related to sectoral recovery, and an encouragement for national civil aviation and transportation officials to more vigorously advocate for the economic and public health priorities of air transportation."

President Sciacchitano stressed that the short-term success of these goals would depend on the establishment of national and regional risk management strategies to gradually open up air routes, and on national decision makers taking more into account the role of air transport as a facilitator and multiplier of economic resilience. and recovery.

The potentially profound long-term implications for traditional air transport business models and post-pandemic operations were also identified as a key concern for aviation leaders going forward, either due to accelerating digitization or heightened expectations. of passengers for healthier and more sustainable travel options.

The last priority area he identified concerned improving current levels of cooperation and information sharing on recovery strategies and lessons learned.

The president concluded by emphasizing that "the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis, it is also an economic and financial crisis that presents governments with very difficult concessions in terms of the social, economic and health priorities in question."

He noted that ICAO had scheduled a high-level conference on these issues for this October and congratulated the Latin American States on the new regional air cargo liberalization agreement to boost vaccine transport and long-term recovery in the Americas. Latina, and for the overall resilience to the pandemic and the responsiveness they have been demonstrating to date.

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