Air travel recovery continues amid strong demand, Iata says

Global traffic grew by nearly 45% in October, but headwinds remained, affecting air cargo demand

Travellers queue to board a Cathay Pacific flight at Hong Kong International Airport.  Bloomberg
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The recovery in air travel continued worldwide in October as more people travelled for business and leisure, with Covid-19 restrictions easing in most parts of the world.

Total air traffic in the month — measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) — rose by nearly 45 per cent from October 2021, led by the Asia-Pacific region, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) said on Monday.

Growth was primarily driven by an annual surge in international traffic of 102.4 per cent, the global aviation body said in its monthly update.

October 2022 international RPKs reached more than 72 per cent of October 2019 levels with all markets recording strong growth, led by Asia-Pacific airlines, which recorded more than a fivefold increase in October traffic compared with October 2021.

Forward bookings for international travel also increased to around 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, following re-openings announced by multiple Asian economies.

“Traditionally, by October we are into the slower autumn travel season in the Northern Hemisphere, so it is highly reassuring to see demand and forward bookings continuing to be so strong. It bodes well for the coming winter season and the ongoing recovery,” said Iata director general Willie Walsh.

“People are enjoying the freedom to travel, and businesses recognise the importance of air transport to their success.”

Aviation was among the industries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which had a domino effect on tourism, hospitality and supply chains. However, the sector is making a gradual recovery.

The travel and tourism sector is forecast to grow by 5.8 per cent annually over the next 10 years, ahead of global gross domestic product growth of 2.7 per cent yearly, and to create 126 million new jobs by 2032, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Airlines based in the Middle East and Africa are expected to end the year in the black, despite macroeconomic headwinds, as air travel demand outstrips available seat capacity, Iata’s regional chief Kamil Al-Awadhi told The National last month.

Middle Eastern airlines saw a nearly 115 per cent traffic jump in October compared with the same month last year, Iata said in its latest report.

Citing a recent survey of European business leaders doing business across borders, Mr Walsh said that 84 per cent of those polled could not imagine doing so without access to air transport networks and 89 per cent believed being close to an airport with global connections gave them a competitive advantage.

“Governments need to pay attention to the message that air travel is fundamental to how we live and work. That reality should drive policies to enable aviation to operate as efficiently as possible while supporting the industry’s 2050 Net Zero emission goals with meaningful incentives to encourage the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuels,” Mr Walsh said.

Meanwhile, even as the passenger traffic is on the rise, air cargo demand continues to suffer amid economic uncertainties.

Global cargo demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), was down by 13.6 per cent on the year in October, the aviation body said.

“Air cargo continues to demonstrate resilience as headwinds persist. But as 2022 closes out, it appears that the current economic uncertainties will follow into the New Year and need continued close monitoring,” Mr Walsh said.

Cargo demand in October — while tracking below the exceptional performance of October 2021— saw a 3.5 per cent increase in demand compared to September, according to Iata estimates.

“This indicates that the year-end will still bring a traditional peak-season boost, despite economic uncertainties,” Mr Walsh said.

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Updated: December 05, 2022, 1:00 PM