Passenger numbers tipped to record 7.1 billion in 2022, says ACI quarterly report

By Luke Barras-hill |

Global air passenger traffic is expected to ‘improve significantly’ this year to reach 77% of the volume recorded in 2019, according to ACI World.

Commenting this week as it published its quarterly assessment on the impact of Covid-19, the voice of global airports noted the recent positive momentum generated by eased travel restrictions and a lift in health measures across much of Europe and the Americas.

ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said: “Considering my recent trips and based on the latest data, there is no doubt that many travellers are eager to resume travelling – and the early summer volumes are a testament to it.

“With the combination of ‘vacation deprivation’ and an upsurge in confidence in air travel provided by increased vaccination rates and safety measures, the relaxation of travel restrictions will help boost the propensity for air travel and fuel the industry’s recovery.

“With many countries taking steps towards the return to a certain normality, lifting almost all the health measures and travel restrictions, we expect a jump in air travel demand in the second half of 2022.”

ACI World says global passenger traffic is expected to improve markedly this year.

Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director General, ACI World.

Sizeable headwinds remain

The brutal impact of the pandemic on global air transport resulted in a circa 64.6% decline (6.1bn) in global passenger traffic for the whole of 2020 versus its projected pre-Covid baseline – to total 3.4 billion travellers.

Having been projected to generate around $188 billion in 2020 prior to the Covid outbreak, airport revenues shed approximately $124.8 billion to reach $63.4 billion.

According to previous estimates, ACI World had put the loss of additional global passengers in 2021 at 4.7 billion to reach 5.2 billion.

This equated to a -47.5% decline on the projected baseline pre-Covid forecast for 2021 (9.8bn), and a 43.6% fall on 2019’s result when global passenger traffic reached 9.1 billion.

While the industry suffered a loss of 4.6 billion passengers in 2021, this equated to a 50.3% decline on 2019’s figures as pax totalled 4.5 billion.

Despite the optimistic outlook for 2022 as travel markets around the world – with the exception of Asia Pacific – continue to unlock, ACI cautioned on the aviation sector recovery, particularly in the medium to long term given the current uncertainty.

Headwinds include geopolitical conflicts such as the war between Russia and Ukraine, rising inflation, an economic downturn, supply chain disruptions, labour shortages and possible new variants.

“Despite the downside risks, the industry remains confident that the potential for a recovery to 2019 levels within two or three years is foreseeable,” stated ACI World.

“While some markets have experienced a robust recovery, on average and under the current projection, accounting for the slower than expected first quarter of 2022 due to the Omicron wave, global passenger traffic is expected to reach back to 2019 levels in late 2023 with the full-year recovery to 2019 levels in 2024.”

The association says domestic passenger traffic will be the main driver of the recovery, although that will be hampered by the ‘recovery stagnation’ in Asia Pacific and a slower uptick in international travel.

It added: “Global domestic passenger traffic is still expected to reach 2019 levels in late 2023 with full-year 2023 traffic at par with 2019 levels. However, global international passenger traffic will require almost one more year to recover and is forecast to reach 2019 levels only by the second half of 2024.”

To read the ACI World quarterly assessment, click here.

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