On Wednesday February 8th, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forecast that air passenger demand in 2023 will rapidly recover to pre-pandemic levels on most routes by the first quarter and that growth of around 3% on 2019 figures will be achieved by year end.
The number of air passengers carried in 2022 increased by an estimated 47% compared to 2021, while revenue passenger kilometres (RPK’s) increased by around 70% over the same period, due mainly to the rapid recovery of most international routes. In terms of airlines’ annual passenger revenues, keeping yield and exchange rates at 2019 levels, ICAO observed growth of an estimated 50% from 2021 to 2022.
Assuring the safe, secure, and sustainable recovery of air services will be key.Salvatore Sciacchitano, ICAO Council President
In line with earlier ICAO predictions, the strong recovery in air passenger demand has resulted in 2022 passenger numbers reaching an estimated 74% of pre-pandemic levels, while passenger revenues are estimated to have reached around 68% of 2019 levels. The number of passenger aircraft in service in 2022 mirrors the overall traffic recovery, with current estimates suggesting 75% of pre-pandemic levels.
In 2022, aircraft orders and deliveries by major manufacturers Airbus and Boeing grew by 53% for orders and 20% for deliveries, compared to the previous year. The number of orders in 2022 exceeded that seen since 2019, indicating the recovery of aircraft demand.
Current estimates for air cargo in 2022 reflect 2021 levels, while still showing marginal growth compared to the pre-pandemic level. The pace of growth for air cargo is however expected to be lower in 2023, given the slowing global economic growth, although long-term air cargo growth remains in line with previously estimated trend indicating strong long term growth.
Looking further ahead, airlines are expected to return to operating profitability in the last quarter of 2023, after three consecutive years of losses. Air passenger demand in 2024 is expected to be stronger, at around 4% higher than 2019. In terms of Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), this translates to a growth of 0.7% over the 2019-2024 period. This expected recovery and growth for the world of civil aviation comes with the caveat that risks affecting international air transport do not escalate from current levels.
Governments have reached agreements on goals toward zero accident fatalities by 2030 and zero carbon emissions by 2050.Juan Carlos Salazar, ICAO Secretary General
2022 was not an easy year for commercial aviation. Despite the wider relaxation of Covid measures around the world, traveling by air was not devoid of challenges coming from different fronts. Several airports and airlines were affected by a shortage of staff after thousands of employees were laid off during the pandemic.
The challenges were amplified by the surge in the number of travelers. Many airlines were forced to reduce their number of flights. Commercial aviation has experienced a global reduction in capacity of 4% or 14.3 million seats due to cancellations, an analysis by travel consultancy firm ForwardKeys revealed.
According to Airports Council International Europe (ACI EUROPE), a full recovery is now expected in 2025 rather than in 2024, as it was previously forecast in May 2022. “Passenger traffic has made a strong comeback since last spring and has so far been very resilient in the face of increasing geopolitical and economic headwinds,” Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE. Continued geopolitical tensions and the war in Ukraine will keep impacting several national markets, and dominate downside risks.
ACI EUROPE expects the impact of these negative determinants on passenger traffic to be partially compensated by a degree of resilience in leisure demand and the continued expansion of Ultra-Low Cost Carriers. The end of the airport slots waiver granted to airlines as of next Summer should also ease supply pressures.
In terms of sustainability, more and more airlines are betting on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to make aviation greener. Despite the slow uptake due to its cost, some technologies are already in place to produce greener fuels for aviation. One or multiple sources can compose the feedstock that produces SAF — waste products, such as vegetable oils or household waste, or specifically grown plant material.
Biomass and municipal solid waste are expanding in use as sources. These have the potential to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions even further over their life-cycle, from 85% to 95%, compared to traditional fossil-based jet fuel. The lower-point is that these sources have a lower energy density and require larger volumes of feed stock. Overall, SAF cost is a major factor preventing the full uptake of this type of fuel.