Passenger air traffic surpasses pre-pandemic levels

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Most international Asian routes, except those serving South West Asia, continue to have substantially lower levels of traffic in 2023 compared to the pre-pandemic levels.

In the first quarter of 2024, ICAO projects that passenger air traffic levels will be around 2% higher than in 2019, with airlines expected to sustain their operating profitability seen in 2023.

“The commitment of ICAO’s Member States to aligning their pandemic responses with the guidance developed by the ICAO Council has been crucial to the recovery of their air services,” remarked ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano. “The implementation of ICAO’s post-pandemic guidance is now equally crucial to ensuring the resilience and sustainability of this recovery.”

Demand this year is forecast to be around 3% above 2019 levels and could reach 4% if the pace of recovery strengthens in the routes that have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. This translates to a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 0.5% over the 2019-2024 period.

“The aspirational goals agreed upon by governments towards the decarbonization of air transport by 2050 are supporting the environmental sustainability of the recovery and future development of the global air transport network,” remarked ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar“This is further driven by initiatives led by ICAO to accelerate the development and implementation of the technologies, operational improvements, and cleaner aviation energies that decarbonization requires. ICAO’s latest air traffic forecasts are promising for global development and a reminder that the global community must accelerate its sustainability efforts, particularly to assure the production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels in sufficient quantities.”

Today’s forecasts come with the caveat that risks affecting international air transport do not escalate from current levels.

ICAO’s latest analysis also reveals new insights into aviation for the previous year 2023, revealing  that air traffic on most routes had already reached or surpassed pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. This is aligned with ICAO’s earlier prediction of an almost complete recovery of passenger air traffic, namely around 95% of 2019 pre-pandemic levels globally by the end of 2023.

The major regional routes which surpassed the 2019 levels by the end of 2023 are:

•    Intra-Europe,
•    Europe to/from North America, the Middle East, South West Asia, and Africa,
•    North America to/from Latin America and the Caribbean, South West Asia, South East Asia, and the Pacific
•    Middle East to/from South West Asia and Africa.

However, most international Asian routes, except those serving South West Asia, continue to have substantially lower levels of traffic in 2023 compared to the pre-pandemic levels.

Despite high fuel prices and economic uncertainties, airlines’ 2023 total operating profits are estimated at USD 39 billion, in line with the 2019 levels. This profit is mainly due to increased passenger yields and productivity gains achieved by the industry. Similarly, to previous years, airlines of North America and Europe captured the majority of the industry’s profits.