In a press release from 1 March, The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced it expects air passenger numbers to fully recover to pre-Covid-19 levels by 2024. IATA expects overall traveller numbers, counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger, to reach 4 billion in 2024, amounting to 103% of the 2019 numbers.
1. Overall travel
People want to travel. And when travel restrictions are lifted, they return to the skies.Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General
Expectations for the shape of the near-term recovery have shifted slightly, reflecting the evolution of government-imposed travel restrictions. The overall picture presented in the latest update to IATA’s long-term forecast, however, is unchanged from what was expected in November, prior to the Omicron variant.
“The trajectory for the recovery in passenger numbers from COVID-19 was not changed by the Omicron variant. People want to travel. And when travel restrictions are lifted, they return to the skies. There is still a long way to go to reach a normal state of affairs, but the forecast for the evolution in passenger numbers gives good reason to be optimistic,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
A full recovery by 2024 is a slightly more optimistic near-term international recovery scenario compared to November 2021, based on the progressive relaxation or elimination of travel restrictions in many countries. This has seen improvements in the major North Atlantic and intra-European markets, strengthening the baseline for recovery.
Asia-Pacific is expected to continue to lag the recovery with the region’s largest market, China, not showing any signs of relaxing its severe border measures in the near future.
The biggest and most immediate drivers of passenger numbers are the restrictions that governments place on travel. […] As a result, the progressive removal of restrictions is giving a much-needed boost to the prospects for travel.Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General
The outlook for the evolution of domestic traveller numbers is slightly more pessimistic than in November. While the US and Russian domestic markets have recovered, the same is not true for the other major domestic markets of China, Canada, Japan and Australia.
IATA reiterates its call for the removal of all travel bans and restrictions, such as quarantine and testing.
2. Regional Variations
In general, we are moving in the right direction, but there are some concerns. Asia-Pacific is the laggard of the recovery.Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General
Not all markets or market sectors are recovering at the same pace.
“While Australia and New Zealand have announced measures to reconnect with the world, China is showing no signs of relaxing its zero-Covid strategy. The resulting localized lock-downs in its domestic market are depressing global passenger numbers even as other major markets like the US are largely back to normal,” said Walsh.
Considering the regional restrictions, IATA predicts the Asia-Pacific, Africa and Middle East regions will only reach 2019 traveller numbers in 2025, Europe in 2024, Latin America is divided, Central America being predicted to fully recover already next year, South America in 2024, while the Caribbean only in 2025. North America is forecast to have the speediest recovery, with traveller numbers reaching pre-Covid-19 levels already in 2023.
3. Russia-Ukraine Conflict
The forecast does not calculate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In general, air transport is resilient against shocks and this conflict is unlikely to impact the long-term growth of air transport. It is too early to estimate what the near-term consequences will be for aviation, but it is clear that there are downside risks, in particular in markets with exposure to the conflict.
Sensitivity factors will include the geographic extent, severity, and time-period for sanctions and/or airspace closures. These impacts would be felt most severely in Russia, Ukraine and neighbouring areas.
The impact on airline costs as a result of fluctuations in energy prices or rerouting to avoid Russian airspace could have broader implications. Consumer confidence and economic activity are likely to be impacted even outside of Eastern Europe.