ForwardKeys reveals int. pax growth of +4.5% in 2019; healthy 3M outlook

By Luke Barras-hill |


Ethiopian Airlines strengthened its route network in 2019. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Anna Zvereva.

Growth in international air travel slowed to +4.5% in 2019, according to the latest statistics from ForwardKeys.

The firm, which analyses global aviation capacity, flight searches and more than 17 million flight booking transactions per day, states the result is ahead of global economic growth – projections are anywhere between +2.6% to +3.0% based on World Bank and IMF estimates, respectively.

However, it lags behind growth of +6% recorded last year and is slower than the average +6.8% return recorded in the last decade, notes ForwardKeys.

Oliver Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys said: “Usually, aviation grows around three percentage points ahead of global GDP. However, in the past year, we have seen several events which have held back growth.

“These include US trade disputes with Canada, China, Mexico and the EU; riots in Chile, France, Hong Kong and India; the grounding of the relatively new Boeing 737 Max aircraft; terrorism in Sri Lanka; the emergence of ‘flight shaming’ and the bankruptcy of Jet Airways.”


Oliver Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys.


In the case of the last, international departures from the Middle East (-2.4%) bore the brunt of the hit due to the grounding of the Mumbai-based airline in April [at the time of writing several reports have emerged claiming expressions of interest have been lodged to restore the ailing carrier’s fortunes – Ed].

This resulted in slashed flight capacity between the Middle East and India.

Travel between Middle Eastern countries rose by 0.7%, but travel to other parts of the globe declined by 3.9%, the ForwardKeys data reveals.

Outbound travel from Europe lifted by 3.7%. Intra-Europe travel rose by 3.3% and travel to other continents was up 5.5%.

Asia Pacific emerged as the standout performer, with international pax volumes growing by 7.7%. Intra-Asia Pacific traffic outpaced this at +8.7%.

New routes between Europe and Asia Pacific resulted in growth between the two markets of +11.7%.

Interestingly, international travel in Africa took second spot in the rankings with growth of +7.5%, fuelled by the continued expansion of Ethiopian Airlines and capacity gains between Addis Ababa and Delhi, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Manila and Seoul, plus new routes between Bangalore from Addis Ababa and New York from Abidjan.


Click to enlarge. Source: ForwardKeys.

Other airlines to add African itineraries included Air China between Johannesburg and Shenzhen, China Southern between Nairobi and Shenzhen, Kenya Airways between Nairobi and New York, LATAM Airlines between Johannesburg and Sao Paulo, and Royal Air Maroc between Casablanca and Boston and Miami.

In the Americas, international outbound travel rose by 4.8%, with intra-regional travel up 3.2%. Grow in travel to other parts of the globe grew by 6.8%, buoyed by the strength of the dollar.


ForwardKeys predicts an optimistic outlook for the coming three months (January-March), with international flight bookings (correct as of 1 January) up 8.3% year-on-year.

“Travel in the first quarter of 2020 looks set to be buoyant, with long-haul travel showing notably stronger growth than intra-regional travel,” noted Ponti. “This is encouraging news for the industry as the further people travel, the more they tend to spend.”


International outbound bookings for Africa are ahead by 12.5% as of 1 January, with travel to other African countries at +10% and rest of the world at +13.5%. Click to enlarge. Source: ForwardKeys.

Africa (+12.5%) shows the greatest promise in terms of current international outbound bookings, followed by Europe (+10.5%), Asia Pacific (+8.3%) and the Americas (+4.7%).

Forward bookings to the Middle East are beginning to revive (+2.2%), with intra-regional bookings looking healthier (+6.8%).

Long-haul bookings on the other hand are sluggish (+0.4%) with ForwardKeys’ data pre-dating the recent death of Iran’s top military general Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US air strike on 4 January.

ForwardKeys says the incident ‘could alter the outlook for travel, particularly if the political situation deteriorates further’.


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