IATA: Pax recovery gathers speed as countries open up; air cargo growth continues to outperform

‘States that persist in attempting to lock-out the disease, rather than managing it…risk missing out on the enormous economic and societal benefits that a restoration of international connectivity will bring.’

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Scenes like this one at Suvarnabhumi Airport are becoming rare as travel starts to resume in Asia and elsewhere. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

http://airlinkflight.org/help-ukraineThe International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that air travel posted a strong rebound in February 2022 compared to January 2022, as Omicron-related impacts moderated outside of Asia. The war in Ukraine, which began on 24 February, did not have a major impact on traffic levels.

Singapore hopes the government’s Vaccinated Travel Lanes will bring people back to flying. A lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Total traffic in February 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was up 115.9 percent compared to February 2021. That is an improvement from January 2022, which was up 83.1 percent compared to January 2021. Compared to February 2019, however, traffic was down 45.5 percent.

Download the IATA Air Transport Outlook here.
Download the IATA February 2022 passenger analysis here.

February 2022 domestic traffic was up 60.7 percent compared to the year-ago period, building on a 42.6 percent increase in January 2022 compared to January 2021. There was wide variation in markets tracked by IATA. Domestic traffic in February was 21.8 percent below the volumes of February 2019.

International RPKs rose 256.8 percent versus February 2021, improved from a 165.5 percent year-over-year increase in January 2022 versus the year-earlier period. All regions improved their performance compared to the prior month. February 2022 international RPKs were down 59.6 percent compared to the same month in 2019.

IATA Director General Willie Walsh at the 2021 annual general meeting in Boston. (PHOTO: IATA)

“The recovery in air travel is gathering steam as governments in many parts of the world lift travel restrictions. States that persist in attempting to lock-out the disease, rather than managing it, as we do with other diseases, risk missing out on the enormous economic and societal benefits that a restoration of international connectivity will bring,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

International Passenger Markets

  • European carriers saw their February traffic rise 380.6 percent versus February 2021, improved over the 224.3 percent increase in January 2022 versus the same month in 2021. Capacity rose 174.8 percent, and load factor climbed 30.3 percentage points to 70.9 percent.
  • Asia-Pacific airlines had a 144.4 percent rise in February traffic compared to February 2021, up somewhat over the 125.8 percent gain registered in January 2022 versus January 2021. Capacity rose 60.8 percent and the load factor was up 16.1 percentage points to 47.0 percent, the lowest among regions.
  • Middle Eastern airlines’ traffic rose 215.3 percent in February compared to February 2021, well up compared to the 145.0 percent increase in January 2022, versus the same month in 2021. February capacity rose 89.5 percent versus the year-ago period, and load factor climbed 25.8 percentage points to 64.7 percent.
  • North American carriers experienced a 236.7 percent traffic rise in February versus the 2021 period, significantly increased compared to the 149.0 percent rise in January 2022 over January 2021. Capacity rose 91.7 percent, and load factor climbed 27.4 percentage points to 63.6 percent.
  • Latin American airlines’ February traffic rose 242.7 percent compared to the same month in 2021, well up over the 155.2 percent rise in January 2022 compared to January 2021. February capacity rose 146.3 percent and load factor increased 21.7 percentage points to 77.0 percent, which was the highest load factor among the regions for the 17th consecutive month.
  • African airlines had a 69.5 percent rise in February RPKs versus a year ago, a large improvement compared to the 20.5 percent year-over-year increase recorded in January 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. February 2022 capacity was up 34.7 percent and load factor climbed 12.9 percentage points to 63.0 percent.

Domestic Passenger Markets

Brazil’s domestic traffic was up 32.5 percent in February, compared to February 2021, which was a slowdown compared to the 35.5 percent year-over-year growth recorded in January. US domestic RPKs rose 112.5 percent year-on-year in February, an improvement compared to the 98.4 percent rise in January versus the prior year.

The accelerated growth recorded in February 2022 compared to a year ago, is helping passenger demand catch-up to 2019 levels. Total RPKs in February were down 45.5 percent compared to February 2019, well ahead of the 49.6 percent decline recorded in January versus the same month in 2019. The domestic recovery continues to outpace that of international markets.

“As the long-awaited recovery in air travel accelerates, it is important that our infrastructure providers are prepared for a huge increase in passenger numbers in the coming months. We are already seeing reports of unacceptably long lines at some airports owing to the growing number of travellers. And that is even before the surge of Easter holiday travel in many markets next week. The peak Northern summer travel season will be critical for jobs throughout the travel and tourism value chain. Now is the time to prepare. Governments can help by ensuring that border positions are staffed adequately and that background security checks for new staff are managed as efficiently as possible,” said Walsh.

Air cargo growth continues

SIA, like other carriers, has seen its cargo business grow, but bellyhold cargo is troubled because of the cut in passenger flights. (PHOTO: Singapore Airlines Cargo)

IATA released data for global air cargo markets showing that demand increased in February despite a challenging operating backdrop. Several factors benefitted air cargo in February compared to January. On the demand side, manufacturing activity ramped-up quickly after the early February Lunar New Year holiday. Capacity was positively influenced by the general and progressive relaxation of COVID-19 travel restrictions, reduced flight cancellations due to Omicron-related factors (outside of Asia), and fewer winter weather operational disruptions.

Download the IATA February 2022 cargo market analysis here.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs*), was up 2.9 percent compared to February 2021 (2.5 percent for international operations). Adjusting the comparison for the impact of the Lunar New Year (which can cause volatility in reporting) by averaging January’s and February’s performance, demand increased 2.7 percent year-on-year. While cargo volumes continued to rise, the growth rate decelerated from the 8.7 percent year-on-year expansion in December. Capacity was 12.5 percent above February 2021 (8.9 percent for international operations). While this is in positive territory, compared to pre-COVID-19 levels capacity remains constrained, 5.6 percent below February 2019 levels.

Some airlines are converting passenger cabins to carry cargo. (PHOTO: HAECO)

Several factors in the operating environment should be noted:

  • General consumer price inflation for the G7 countries was at 6.3 percent year-on-year in February 2022, the highest since late 1982. While inflation normally curtails purchasing power this is balanced against higher savings levels coming out of the pandemic.
  • The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) indicator tracking global new export orders fell to 48.2 in March. This was the lowest since July 2020 indicating that a majority of surveyed businesses reported a fall in new export orders.
  • The zero-COVID policy in mainland China and Hong Kong continues to create supply chain disruptions as a result of flight cancellations due to labor shortages, and because many manufacturers cannot operate normally.
(PHOTO: Cathay Pacific Cargo)

The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had limited effect globally on February’s performance as it occurred very near the end of the month. The negative impacts of war and related sanctions (particularly higher energy costs and reduced trade) will become more visible from March.

“Demand for air cargo continued to expand despite growing challenges in the trading environment. That is not likely to be the case in March as the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine take hold. Sanction-related shifts in manufacturing and economic activity, rising oil prices and geopolitical uncertainty will take their toll on air cargo’s performance,” said Walsh.

February Regional Performance

  • Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes increase 3.0 percent in February 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. Available capacity in the region was up 15.5 percent compared to February 2021, however it remains heavily constrained compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, down 14.6 percent compared to February 2019. The zero-COVID policy in mainland China and Hong Kong is impacting performance.
  • North American carriers posted a 6.1 percent increase in cargo volumes in February 2022 compared to February 2021. The ramp up of manufacturing activity in China following the end of the Lunar New Year resulted in growth in the Asia–North America market, with seasonally adjusted volumes rising by 4.3 percent in February. Capacity was up 13.4 percent compared to February 2021.
  • European carriers saw a 2.2 percent increase in cargo volumes in February 2022 compared to the same month in 2021.  This was slower than the previous month (6.4 percent), partially attributable to the war in Ukraine which started at the end of the month. Seasonally adjusted demand on the Asia-Europe route, one of the most affected by the conflict decreased by 2.0 percent month on month. Capacity was up 10.0 percent in February 2022 compared to February 2021, and down 11.1 percent compared to pre-crisis levels (2019).
  • Middle Eastern carriers experienced a 5.3 percent year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in February. This was the weakest performance of all regions, which was owing to a deterioration in traffic on several key routes such as Middle East-Asia, and Middle East-North America. Looking forward, there are signs of improvement as data indicate that the region is likely to benefit from traffic being redirected to avoid flying over Russia. Capacity was up 7.2 percent compared to February 2021.
  • Latin American carriers reported an increase of 21.2 percent in cargo volumes in February 2022 compared to the 2021 period. This was the strongest performance of all regions. Some of the largest airlines in the region are benefitting from the end of bankruptcy procedures. Capacity in February was up 18.9 percent compared to the same month in 2021.
  • African airlines saw cargo volumes increase by 4.6 percent in February 2022 compared to February 2021. Capacity was 8.2 percent above February 2021 levels.

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