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Monday,  June 24, 2024 12:09 PM 

“People want to travel”: Air passenger numbers will recover in 2024, IATA says

  • Air
  •   03-01-2022  10:22 am
  •   Pax Global Media

“People want to travel”: Air passenger numbers will recover in 2024, IATA says
Willie Walsh, director general, IATA. (Supplied)
Pax Global Media

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects overall traveller numbers to reach 4.0 billion in 2024, exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels.

Expectations for a near-term recovery have shifted slightly, reflecting the evolution of government-imposed travel restrictions in some markets, the association says. 

The picture presented in IATA’s latest update, 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,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, in a statement, “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.”

IATA’s long-term forecast

The February update to IATA's  long-term forecast includes the following:

In 2021, overall traveller numbers were 47% of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 83% in 2022, 94% in 2023, 103% in 2024 and 111% in 2025.

In 2021, international traveler numbers were 27% of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 69% in 2022, 82% in 2023, 92% in 2024 and 101% in 2025.

"People want to travel. And when travel restrictions are lifted, they return to the skies,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. (File photo)

This is a slightly more optimistic near-term international recovery scenario compared to November 2021, based on the relaxation or elimination of travel restrictions in many markets, IATA says.

“This has seen improvements in the major North Atlantic and intra-European markets, strengthening the baseline for recovery,” the association said, noting that Asia-Pacific is expected to continue to lag the recovery with the region’s largest market, China, not showing any signs of relaxing its severe border measures in the near future.

After a resilient 2021, traffic to/from/within North America, for one, will continue to perform strongly in 2022 as the U.S. domestic market returns to pre-crisis trends, and with ongoing improvements in international travel.

In 2022, passenger numbers in North America will reach 94% of 2019 levels, and full recovery is expected in 2023 (102%), ahead of other regions, IATA says.

In 2021, domestic traveler numbers were 61% of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 93% in 2022, 103% in 2023, 111% in 2024 and 118% in 2025.

“The biggest and most immediate drivers of passenger numbers are the restrictions that governments place on travel,” said Walsh. “Fortunately, more governments have understood that travel restrictions have little to no long-term impact on the spread of a virus. And the economic and social hardship caused for very limited benefit is simply no longer acceptable in a growing number of markets.”

“As a result, the progressive removal of restrictions is giving a much-needed boost to the prospects for travel.”

IATA says it will continue to call for the removal of all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated, pre-departure antigen testing to enable quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers, removing all travel bans, and accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread.

Impact of Russia-Ukraine conflict

IATA notes that its forecast does not calculate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“In general, air transport is resilient against shocks and this conflict is unlikely to impact the long-term growth of air transport,” the association said. “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.”

Pre-COVID-19, Russia was the 11th largest market for air transport services in terms of passenger numbers, including its large domestic market. Ukraine ranked 48.

The impact on airline costs as a result of fluctuations in energy prices or rerouting to avoid Russian airspace “could have broader implications,” IATA says.

“Consumer confidence and economic activity are likely to be impacted even outside of Eastern Europe.”

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