The International Air Transport Association projects that overall air passenger numbers will reach 4 billion in 2024, about 103 percent of the pre-Covid-19 levels of 2019, the association reported Tuesday.
IATA’s new forecast was not negatively affected by the omicron variant as compared with its previous forecast in November, and this latest forecast does not take into account the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, according to IATA.
“The trajectory for the recovery in passenger numbers from Covid-19 was not changed by the omicron variant,” IATA director general Willie Walsh said in a statement. “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.”
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In 2021, total traveler numbers were 47 percent of 2019 levels. IATA projects that figure to reach 83 percent in 2022 and 94 percent in 2023. Meanwhile, the group forecast international traveler numbers, which for 2021 were 27 percent of 2019 levels, to reach 69 percent in 2022 and fully recover in 2025.
The international forecast is “slightly more optimistic” than the previous one, based on the relaxation or elimination of travel restrictions in many areas, particularly in major North Atlantic and intra-European markets, according to IATA. Recovery varies by region, however, with Asia-Pacific expected to continue to lag.
“In general, we are moving in the right direction, but there are some concerns,” Walsh said. “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. The resulting localized lockdowns in its domestic market are depressing global passenger numbers even as other major markets like the U.S. are largely back to normal.”
IATA expects travel to and from North America to continue to perform strongly in 2022 as the domestic market “returns to pre-crisis trends” and international improves. The group projects passenger numbers this year to reach 94 percent of 2019 levels and exceed them in 2023, ahead of other regions.
Over the next few years, the intra-Europe market could benefit from preferences for short-haul travel. IATA projects passenger numbers to, from and within the region this year to reach 86 percent of 2019 levels, with a full recovery expected in 2024.
Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, IATA noted that “it is too early to estimate what the near-term consequences will be for aviation, but it is clear that there are downside risks, in particular in markets with exposure to the conflict.” Variables include geography, severity of the conflict, the time period for sanctions and/or airspace closures. The effect 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,” according to the report.