Global air passenger traffic rebounds to 90% of pre-Covid levels

The easing of inflation, rising consumer confidence and declining jet fuel prices sustain strong demand

International passenger traffic climbed 48 per cent from April 2022, according to Iata. AFP
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Global air passenger traffic rebounded to 90.5 per cent of pre-Covid levels in April, led by airlines in Asia-Pacific, which recorded the fastest growth.

Total passenger traffic worldwide increased 45.8 per cent on an annual basis in April, despite the uncertainties hanging over the global economy, the International Air Transport Association said in its monthly report.

International passenger traffic climbed 48 per cent from April 2022. All markets recorded strong growth, with Asia-Pacific airlines again leading the way.

Outlook for aviation in 2023 - Business Extra

Outlook for aviation in 2023 - Business Extra

Demand for domestic travel in April also rose 42.6 per cent compared with the same month last year, and has now fully recovered, posting a 2.9 per cent increase over the April 2019 results, according to Iata.

“April continued the strong traffic trend we saw in the first quarter of 2023,” Willie Walsh, Iata’s director general, said.

“The easing of inflation and rising consumer confidence in most OECD countries combined with declining jet fuel prices, suggests sustained strong air travel demand and moderating cost pressures.”

The global aviation industry in 2022 charted a flight path to recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the worst crisis in its history, with a boom in air travel demand and sky-high airfares as restrictions eased.

Airlines, airports and aerospace companies started hiring at record rates, adding capacity, resuming routes, repairing balance sheets and – for some – returning to the black after nearly three years of withered earnings.

But the industry now faces tough macroeconomic and geopolitical headwinds that are raising questions on the longevity of the travel boom and the strength of its recovery.

Multi-decade record inflation in western economies, rising interest rates, unfavourable currency swings, higher jet fuel prices and supply chain woes delaying aircraft deliveries are among the challenges facing airlines as they emerge from the pandemic.

The uncertainty of the Russia-Ukraine war is an additional risk to the outlook.

Despite the tough global economic headwinds, Asia-Pacific airlines registered a 192.7 per cent increase in passenger traffic compared with April 2022.

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 38 per cent annual increase in passenger traffic in April. Capacity climbed 27.8 per cent, while load factor – a measure of how well airlines can fill available seats – rose 5.6 percentage points to 76.2 per cent, according to Iata.

“Heading into the Northern Hemisphere peak travel season, aircraft and airports are full of people eager to make use of their travel freedoms,” Mr Walsh said.

“Airlines are working hard to accommodate them with a smooth travel experience despite continuing supply chain shortages and other operational challenges.”

The global aviation community will gather in Istanbul from Sunday to Tuesday for the 79th Iata annual general meeting and World Air Transport Summit.

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

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres, fell 6.6 per cent year on year, which was an improvement over March’s decline of 7.6 per cent.

Cargo capacity grew 13.4 per cent compared with April 2022, and 3.2 per cent compared with April 2019, marking the first time in three years that the capacity has surpassed pre-Covid levels.

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The sharp rise is primarily driven by belly capacity as demand in the passenger business recovers, Iata said.

“The air cargo industry is adjusting itself to the implications of the recovery in passenger demand that brings with it an expansion of belly capacity,” Mr Walsh said.

“The demand environment is challenging to read. Tapering inflation is definitely a positive. But the degree and speed at which that could lead to looser monetary policies that might stimulate demand is unclear.”

Updated: June 03, 2023, 9:27 AM