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Passenger air traffic has surpassed pre-pandemic levels

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In the first quarter of 2024, ICAO projected that passenger air traffic levels will be around 2% higher than in 2019, with airlines expected to sustain their operating profitability seen in 2023.

Demand this year is forecast to be around 3% above 2019 levels and could reach 4% if the pace of recovery strengthens in the routes that have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels.

This translates to a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 0.5% over the 2019-2024 period.

“The commitment of ICAO’s Member States to aligning their pandemic responses with the guidance developed by the ICAO Council has been crucial to the recovery of their air services,” remarked ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano.

“The implementation of ICAO’s post-pandemic guidance is now equally crucial to ensuring the resilience and sustainability of this recovery.”

Global demand expressed in Freight Tonne-Kilometres (FTK) is forecast to be around 2% below 2019 levels for the full year 2024. This decline is mainly reflective of anticipated reductions in demand due to overall economic weakness worldwide.

“The aspirational goals agreed upon by governments towards the decarbonization of air transport by 2050 are supporting the environmental sustainability of the recovery and future development of the global air transport network,” remarked ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar.

“This is further driven by initiatives led by ICAO to accelerate the development and implementation of the technologies, operational improvements, and cleaner aviation energies that decarbonization requires.

ICAO’s latest air traffic forecasts are promising for global development and a reminder that the global community must accelerate its sustainability efforts, particularly to assure the production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels in sufficient quantities.”

These forecasts come with the caveat that risks affecting international air transport do not escalate from current levels.

ICAO’s latest analysis also reveals new insights into aviation for the previous year 2023, revealing  that air traffic on most routes had already reached or surpassed pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.

This is aligned with ICAO’s earlier prediction of an almost complete  recovery of passenger air traffic, namely around 95% of 2019 pre-pandemic levels globally by the end of 2023.

The major regional routes which surpassed the 2019 levels by the end of 2023 are:

  • Intra-Europe
  • Europe to/from North America, Middle East, South West Asia and Africa
  • North America to/from Latin America and the Caribbean, South West Asia, South East Asia, and Pacific
  • Middle East to/from South West Asia and Africa.

Most international Asian routes, with the exception of those serving South West Asia, continue to have substantially lower levels of traffic in 2023 compared to the pre-pandemic levels.

Cargo traffic expressed as FTK in 2023 is estimated to be 3% below 2019 pre-pandemic levels reflecting the world economy.

Despite high fuel prices and economic uncertainties, airlines’ 2023 total operating profits are estimated at USD 39 billion, in line with the 2019 levels.

This profit is mainly due to increased passenger yields and productivity gains achieved by the industry.

Similarly, compared to previous years, airlines of North America and Europe captured the majority of the industry’s profits.

ICAO produces a Monthly Monitor that provides aviation stakeholders with access to comprehensive snapshots and in-depth analysis of economic and aviation indicators, empowering them with actionable insights to navigate the complexities of the aviation landscape.

Through monthly updates and customizable features, the Monthly Monitor allows stakeholders to stay up-to-date on data that facilitates informed decision-making and strategic planning.