IATA: ‘long way to go’ as international travel to reach pre-Covid levels in 2025

By Luke Barras-hill |

IATA’s long-term forecast is unchanged from what was expected prior to the Omicron outbreak in November.

It will be another three years before international passenger traffic is expected to surpass volumes recorded in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

In an update issued today (1 March), IATA reports that overseas trips in 2021 were 27% of 2019 levels.

This is expected to improve to 69% in 2022, 82% in 2023 and 92% in 2024, before hitting 101% in 2025.

The forecast does not take into account the impact of the *Ukraine crisis, though the association points to air transport’s resilience in cushioning a scenario ‘unlikely to impact the long-term growth of air transport’.

Willie Walsh, Director General, IATA said: “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.”

FOUR BILLION PAX IN COMING YEARS

Overall passenger traffic (counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger) is forecast to reach four billion by 2024 to 103% of the 2019 total.

At 47%, the share of overall traffic in 2021 versus 2019 was up on that of international numbers.

Total traffic is expected to improve to 83% in 2022, 94% in 2023 and reach 111% in 2025.

Despite dampened demand, major North Atlantic and intra-European markets have witnessed a progressive relaxation or removal of travel restrictions, though Asia Pacific continues to lag behind due to China’s severe border measures.

Domestic traveller numbers were 61% of 2019 levels and are tipped to improve to 92% in 2022, 103% in 2023, 11% in 2024 and 118% in 2025.

While the US and Russian domestic markets have recovered, IATA points out that the picture is very different for China, Canada, Japan and Australia.

“The biggest and most immediate drivers of passenger numbers are the restrictions that governments place on travel,” said Walsh. “Fortunately, more governments have understood that travel restrictions have little to no long-term impact on the spread of a virus.

Willie Walsh, Director General, IATA. Source: IATA.

‘MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION’

“And the economic and social hardship caused for very limited benefit is simply no longer acceptable in a growing number of markets. As a result, the progressive removal of restrictions is giving a much-needed boost to the prospects for travel.

“In general, we are moving in the right direction, but there are some concerns. Asia Pacific is the laggard of the recovery. While Australia and New Zealand have announced measures to reconnect with the world, China is showing no signs of relaxing its zero-Covid strategy.”

IATA has forecast that Asia Pacific will reach 68% of 2019 levels in 2022 and should achieve parity with 2019 by 2025 due to the sluggish international traffic recovery.

The intra-Europe market is expected to be boosted by the desire for short-haul travel as EU travel harmonisation increases and restrictions loosen.

Total passenger numbers to/from/within Europe are expected to reach 86% of 2019 values in 2022 as a precursor to a full recovery in 2024 at 105% of 2019 volumes.

IATA has reiterated its call for the removal of all travel barriers, including quarantine and testing for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine.

*It is too early to estimate the near-term consequences on aviation as a result of the crisis, says IATA, which acknowledges there are ‘downside risks’ to particular markets exposed 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.  

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