The global aviation industry was hit by the worst demand levels in aviation history, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on Wednesday.
Air traffic for 2020 fell by 65.9 percent compared to 2019, with forward bookings tumbling since late December, it added.
International traveller numbers last year were 75.6 percent lower than 2019 levels, with capacity and load factor falling 68.1 percent and 19.2 percent, respectively.
Traffic in December last year peaked at 69.7 percent, down 0.7 percent from November at 70.4 percent. Domestic demand also fell 48.8 percent compared to 2019, with capacity and load factor shrinking 35.7 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Despite the IATA forecasting a 50.4 percent improvement in 2021, there would be a "severe downside risk" if governments imposed severe travel restrictions to tackle new variants of the disease, the organisation said.
Further restrictions could limit demand to a 13 percent rise in 2020, or 38 percent of 2019 levels, the IATA added.
“Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it. What recovery there was over the Northern hemisphere summer season stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season, as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of COVID-19.” IATA chief executive and director-general Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement.
Despite noting the loss of 1.7m people during the COVID-19 pandemic in December, de Juniac also slammed "frustrating" national lockdowns in a December 2020 speech as being imposed with "badly coordinated and poorly communicated border closures", citing a World Health Organisation warning the pandemic could not be controlled with such measures.
"Unfortunately, the Takeoff guidance has not been universally implemented. And the reaction to the recent discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in the UK demonstrated how big the gap is. Governments did not coordinate to implement a flexible, balanced policy toolkit to keep borders open and control the risk to public health. Governments’ instant reaction to a spike in infections and a mutation in the virus in the UK was to simply lock down and close borders," de Juniac said in his speech.
The "sledgehammer" policies were not "economically or humanly sustainable", he concluded.