Global air passenger traffic in February rebounds to 15% below pre-Covid levels, Iata says

Air travel demand remains strong, led by Asia-Pacific airlines, despite economic uncertainties

Travellers wait inside Manila International Airport in the Philippines. Global airlines are ready for the travel rush during the busy Easter holidays, Iata said. EPA
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Global passenger traffic rebounded to 15 per cent below its pre-pandemic levels in February, led by airlines in Asia-Pacific, which recorded the fastest growth, the International Air Transport Association said.

Total passenger traffic worldwide increased 55.5 per cent on an annual basis in February, despite the uncertainties hanging over the global economy, according to Iata's monthly report.

International passenger traffic jumped 89.7 per cent from February 2022 and reached 77.5 per cent of February 2019 levels. All markets recorded strong growth, with Asia-Pacific airlines again leading the way.

Demand for domestic travel in February also rose 25.2 per cent, compared with the same month last year, and stood at 97.2 per cent of February 2019 levels.

“Despite the uncertain economic signals, demand for air travel continues to be strong across the globe and particularly in the Asia-Pacific region," Willie Walsh, Iata's director general, said.

"The industry is now just about 15 per cent below 2019 levels of demand and that gap is narrowing each month."

The removal of Covid-19 restrictions for Chinese domestic and international travel has continued to bode well for the industry's continued strong recovery from the pandemic.

Covid restrictions in China, the world's second-biggest economy and top air travel market, were among the strictest and most enduring worldwide.

However, escalating geopolitical tensions, increasing economic fragmentation, high inflation and a surprise output cut by Opec+ producers that sent oil prices higher this week are a challenging backdrop against which airlines operate.

Despite the tough global economic headwinds, Middle Eastern airlines registered a 75 per cent jump in passenger traffic compared to February 2022. Capacity climbed 40.5 per cent, while load factor — a measure of how well airlines can fill available seats — rose 15.8 percentage points to 80 per cent, according to Iata.

Global airlines are ready for the travel rush during the busy Easter holidays this month, but airports and other players in the travel supply chain must also play their part, Mr Walsh said.

"People are flying in ever greater numbers. With the Easter and Passover holidays we are expecting large numbers of travellers to take to the skies in many parts of the world. They should do so with confidence that airlines have been rebuilding resiliency that suffered owing to the pandemic," he said.

"Other participants in the air travel value chain, including airports, air navigation service providers, and airport security staff, need to have the same commitment to ensuring our customers can enjoy smooth holiday travel."

Outlook for aviation in 2023 - Business Extra

Outlook for aviation in 2023 - Business Extra

Mr Walsh's comments come after crippling labour shortages curbed capacity and led to travel headaches last summer at major hubs in Europe and the US. Travellers suffered long lines, baggage piles and delayed flights.

Meanwhile, global air cargo markets in February registered a slower pace of decline, Iata data showed.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres, fell 7.5 per cent year on year, which was half the rate of annual decline recorded in January of 14.9 per cent.

February demand for air cargo was 2.9 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels in the same month of 2019 — the first time it has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in eight months, Iata said.

Cargo capacity grew 8.6 per cent compared to February 2022, reflecting the addition of belly capacity as the passenger side of the business continues to recover.

"An optimistic eye could see the start of an improvement trend that leads to market stabilisation and a return to more normal demand patterns after dramatic ups-and-downs in recent years,” Mr Walsh said.

Updated: April 05, 2023, 12:53 PM