Air travel is on the road to recovery with global air traffic now at 68.7% of pre-crisis levels, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) passenger data for May.
The news comes as the travel industry enters the busy Northern Hemisphere summer holiday season, which is set to be a shot in the arm for carriers around the world.
Total traffic in May 2022 was up 83.1% compared to May 2021, which was largely driven by the strong recovery in international traffic.
Indeed, international traffic during the time period rose by a significant 325.8%, accelerated by easing of travel restrictions in most parts of Asia.
Figures are almost two thirds of what they were before the pandemic, with May 2022 international revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) reaching 64.1% of May 2019 levels.
Domestic traffic was up 0.2% compared to the year-ago period.
The report noted that ‘significant improvements in many markets were masked by a 73.2% year-on-year decline in the Chinese domestic market due to Covid -19 related restrictions’.
May 2022 domestic traffic was 76.7% compared to the same month in 2019.
“The travel recovery continues to gather momentum. People need to travel. And when governments remove Covid-19 restrictions, they do,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
“Many major international route areas – including within Europe, and the Middle East-North America routes – are already exceeding pre-Covid-19 levels.
“Completely removing all Covid-19 restrictions is the way forward, with Australia being the latest to do so this week.
“The major exception to the optimism of this rebound in travel is China, which saw a dramatic 73.2% fall in domestic travel compared to the previous year.
“Its continuing zero-Covid policy is out-of-step with the rest of the world and it shows in the dramatically slower recovery of China-related travel.”
While the data paints a promising picture overall, some high year-on-year (yoy) growth rates can be attributed to the low traffic base in 2021.
Comparing the size of the markets to 2019, presents a wider picture on the post pandemic recovery journey.
However, total RPKs in May 2022 reached 68.7% of May 2019 levels, marking ‘the best performance against pre-Covid-19 travel so far this year’.
The report details International Passenger Markets for carriers by region, highlighting key factors that have contributed to the performance.
For example, it was noted that Improvements in the Asia Pacific region are being driven by reduced restrictions in most of the region’s markets, except China.
Furthermore, in Northern America, where most restrictions have been removed for travellers, the appetite to travel means that several other routes areas are now outperforming 2019 results.
Looking at Domestic Passenger Markets, points of note include India’s domestic RPKs which rose 405.7% yoy in May, compared to the 78.6% increase recorded in April.
This points to the severe Covid-19 outbreak experienced in the country in May 2021.
“The recovery in travel markets is no less than impressive,” said Walsh.
“As we accelerate towards the peak summer season in the Northern Hemisphere, strains in the system are appearing in some European and North American hubs.
“Nobody wants to see passengers suffering from delays or cancellations. But passengers can be confident that solutions are being urgently implemented.
“Airlines, airports and governments are working together, however, standing up the workforce needed to meet growing demand will take time and require patience in the few locations where the bottlenecks are the most severe.”
Walsh added that, in the longer term, governments must ‘improve their understanding of how aviation operates and work more closely with airports and airlines’.
“Having created so much uncertainty with knee-jerk Covid-19 policy flipflops and avoiding most opportunities to work in unison based on global standards, their actions did little to enable a smooth ramping-up of activity,” he said.
“And it is unacceptable that the industry is now facing a potential punitive regulatory deluge as several governments fill their post-Covid-19 regulatory calendars.
“Aviation has delivered its best when governments and industry work together to agree and implement global standards. That axiom is as true post-Covid-19 as it was in the century before.”