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ESCWA: Number of passenger flights reduced by more than half in the Arab region due to COVID-19

Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, 7 November 2020--The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Arab region has led to a decrease in the number of passenger flights by more than half in the first six months of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. The closure of land borders has also widely restricted the movement of people and goods. Only maritime transport of goods has shown some resilience to the various disruptive factors it was exposed to in the region, with some variations between countries in the extent of their impact.
These findings were highlighted in a new study issued today by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in cooperation with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), entitled “Impact of COVID-19 on Transport in the Arab Region”.

The total number of air passengers to, from and within the Arab region is expected to drop in 2020 to about 154 million, taking the number of passengers back to the 2009 level. While the total revenue losses of airline companies in the region are estimated at $38 billion in 2020, that is, about 53% of last year's revenue, global air travel is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.
Air transport is not the only sector affected by the repercussions of the pandemic-related measures. Border closures and safety protocols have also had an impact on the movement of people and goods. The study foresees a decline in road freight transport turnover in the region by 22% in 2020.
In contrast, port calls by all commercial cargo vessels in the region declined only by 1% during the first 31 weeks of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, and the number of container vessel port calls remained steady. However, port calls by passenger vessels were hit hard, dropping by 40.1%.
In view of these changes, ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti urged Arab Governments to implement support measures for the transport and logistics sector, including financial support, tax rebates, other duties exemptions, and subsiding workers’ salaries and training.
"Governments should strengthen international and regional cooperation to take concerted actions to address the pandemic and its impact on transport and logistics, such as information sharing, mutual recognition of certificates and compliance documents, and border management coordination," she underlined.
The new study is part of a series of impact assessments of COVID-19 undertaken by ESCWA to support Arab Governments in joining efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.


One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.
For more information:
- Ms. Rania Harb, Public Information Assistant, +961-70-008-879; email: