The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects overall traveller numbers to reach 4.0 billion in 2024 (counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger), exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels (103 percent of the 2019 total).
Expectations for the shape of the near-term recovery have shifted slightly, reflecting the evolution of government-imposed travel restrictions in some markets. The overall picture presented in the latest update to IATA’s long-term forecast, however, is unchanged from what was expected in November, prior to the Omicron variant.
“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,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general said.
It also called for removal of all travel bans, and accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread than already exists in the general population.
Not all markets or market sectors are recovering at the same pace.
Africa: Africa’s passenger traffic prospects are somewhat weaker in the near-term, due to slow progress in vaccinating the population, and the impact of the crisis on developing economies. Passenger numbers to/from/within Africa will recover more gradually than in other regions, reaching 76 percent of 2019 levels in 2022, surpassing pre-crisis levels only in 2025 (101 percent).
“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. The resulting localized lock-downs in its domestic market are depressing global passenger numbers even as other major markets like the US are largely back to normal,” Walsh said.
Asia-Pacific: The slow removal of international travel restrictions, and the likelihood of renewed domestic restrictions during COVID outbreaks, means that traffic to/from/within Asia Pacific will only reach 68 percent of 2019 levels in 2022, the weakest outcome of the main regions. 2019 levels should be recovered in 2025 (109 percent) due to a slow recovery on international traffic in the region.
Europe: In the next few years, the intra-Europe market is expected to benefit from passenger preferences for short-haul travel as confidence rebuilds. This will be facilitated by increasingly harmonized and restriction-free movement within the EU. Total passenger numbers to/from/within Europe are expected to reach 86 percent of 2019 values in 2022, before making a full recovery in 2024 (105 percent).
North America: After a resilient 2021, traffic to/from/within North America will continue to perform strongly in 2022 as the US domestic market returns to pre-crisis trends, and with ongoing improvements in international travel. In 2022, passenger numbers will reach 94 percent of 2019 levels, and full recovery is expected in 2023 (102 percent), ahead of other regions.
Middle East: With limited short-haul markets, the Middle East focus on long-haul connectivity through its hubs is expected to result in slower recovery. Passenger numbers to/from/within the Middle East are expected to reach 81 percent of 2019 levels in 2022, 98 percent in 2024 and 105 percent in 2025.