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Global air passenger traffic nears pre-pandemic levels

Global air passenger traffic nears pre-pandemic levels

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that the recovery in air travel continued in December 2023 and total year traffic edged even closer to matching pre-pandemic demand on the back of connectivity restoration.

Total traffic in 2023 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose 36.9 percent compared to 2022. Globally, full year 2023 traffic was at 94.1 percent of pre-pandemic (2019) levels.

December 2023 total traffic rose 25.3 36.9 percent compared to December 2022 and reached 97.5 percent of the December 2019 level. Fourth quarter traffic was at 98.2 percent of 2019, reflecting the strong recovery towards the end of the year.

International traffic in 2023 climbed 41.6 percent versus 2022 and reached 88.6 percent of 2019 levels. December 2023 international traffic climbed 24.2 percent over December 2022, reaching 94.7 percent of the level in December 2019. Fourth quarter traffic was at 94.5 percent of 2019.

Domestic traffic for 2023 rose 30.4 percent compared to the prior year. 2023 domestic traffic was 3.9 percent above the full year 2019 level. December 2023 domestic traffic was up 27.0 percent over the year earlier period and was at 2.3 percent above December 2019 traffic. Fourth quarter traffic was 4.4 percent higher than the same quarter in 2019.

“The strong post-pandemic rebound continued in 2023. December traffic stood just 2.5 percent below 2019 levels, with a strong performance in quarter 4, teeing-up airlines for a return to normal growth patterns in 2024. The recovery in travel is good news.

“The restoration of connectivity is powering the global economy as people travel to do business, further their educations, take hard-earned vacations and much more. But to maximize the benefits of air travel in the post-pandemic world, governments need to take a strategic approach.

“That means providing cost-efficient infrastructure to meet demand, incentivizing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production to meet our net zero carbon emission goal by 2050, and adopting regulations that deliver a clear cost-benefit. Completing the recovery must not be an excuse for governments to forget the critical role of aviation to increasing the prosperity and well-being of people and businesses the world over,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

African airlines’ annual traffic rose 38.7 percent in 2023 versus the prior year. Full year 2023 capacity was up 38.3 percent and load factor climbed 0.2 percentage points to 71.9 percent, the lowest among regions. December 2023 traffic for African airlines rose 9.5 percent over December 2022.

European carriers’ full year traffic climbed 22.0 percent versus 2022. Capacity increased 17.5 percent, and load factor rose 3.1 percentage points to 83.8 percent . For December, demand climbed 13.6 percent compared to the same month in 2022. December traffic was higher than the corresponding month in 2019 for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Middle Eastern airlines saw a 33.3 percent traffic rise in 2023 compared to 2022. Capacity increased 26.0 percent and load factor climbed 4.4 percentage points to 80.1 percent. December demand climbed 16.6 percent compared to the same month in 2022.

“Our push to connect our world even more strongly than before the pandemic must not come at the expense of our environment. The industry’s goal to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 remains steadfast.

“To accelerate the transition, we need governments and fuel suppliers to step up and do more. We saw a strong increase in the use of SAF in 2023, but SAF is still only three percent of all global renewable fuels production. That is unacceptable.

“Aircraft have no option but to rely on liquid fuels, whereas other transport modes have alternatives. A massive collective effort is needed to increase SAF output as a proportion of overall renewable fuel production as quickly as possible,” said Walsh.