IATA: Strong growth continues in pax demand; Cargo demand rose above pre-pandemic levels

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Qatar Airways Joins IATA
(PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced continued strong growth in air travel demand, based on February 2023 traffic results. Total traffic in February 2023 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) rose 55.5 percent compared to February 2022. Globally, traffic is now at 84.9 percent of February 2019 levels.

Download the IATA passenger market analysis here.

Domestic traffic for February rose 25.2 percent compared to the year-ago period. Total February 2023 domestic traffic was at 97.2 percent of the February 2019 level. International traffic climbed 89.7 percent versus February 2022 with all markets recording strong growth, led once again by carriers in the Asia-Pacific region. International RPKs reached 77.5 percent of February 2019 levels.

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

“Despite the uncertain economic signals, demand for air travel continues to be strong across the globe and particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. The industry is now just about 15 percent below 2019 levels of demand and that gap is narrowing each month,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. “People are flying in ever greater numbers. With the Easter and Passover holidays we are expecting large numbers of travellers to take to the skies in many parts of the world. They should do so with confidence that airlines have been rebuilding resiliency that suffered owing to the pandemic. Other participants in the air travel value chain, including airports, air navigation service providers, and airport security staff, need to have the same commitment to ensuring our customers can enjoy smooth holiday travel,” said Walsh.

International Passenger Markets

  • Asia-Pacific airlines had a 378.7 percent increase in February 2023 traffic compared to February 2022, maintaining the very positive momentum of the past few months since the lifting of travel restrictions in the region. Capacity rose 176.4 percent and the load factor increased 34.9 percentage points to 82.5 percent, the second highest among the regions.
  • European carriers posted a 47.9 percent traffic rise versus February 2022. Capacity climbed 29.7 percent, and load factor rose 9.1 percentage points to 73.7 percent, which was the lowest among the regions.
  • Middle Eastern airlines saw a 75.0 percent traffic increase compared to February a year ago. Capacity climbed 40.5 percent and load factor pushed up 15.8 percentage points to 80.0 percent.
  • North American carriers’ traffic climbed 67.4 percent in February 2023 versus the 2022 period. Capacity increased 39.5 percent, and load factor rose 12.8 percentage points to 76.6 percent.
  • Latin American airlines had a 44.1 percent traffic increase compared to the same month in 2022. February capacity climbed 34.0 percent and load factor rose 5.8 percentage points to 82.7 percent, the highest among the regions.
  • African airlines’ traffic rose 90.7 percent in February 2023 versus a year ago. February capacity was up 61.7 percent and load factor climbed 11.4 percentage points to 75.0 percent.

Domestic Passenger Markets

  • Japan’s domestic traffic surged 161.4 percent in February compared to a year ago and now stands at 89.9 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
  • US airlines’ domestic demand rose 10.6 percent in February and was 0.7 percent ahead of February 2019 levels.

Air Cargo Above Pre-pandemic Levels

(PHOTO: Singapore Airlines)

IATA also released data for February 2023 global air cargo markets showing that air cargo demand rose above pre-pandemic levels. Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), fell 7.5 percent compared to February 2022 (-8.3 percent for international operations). This was half the rate of annual decline seen in the previous two months (-14.9 percent and -15.3 percent respectively). February demand for air cargo was 2.9 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels (February 2019)—the first time it has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in eight months.

Download the IATA cargo market analysis here.

Capacity (measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres, ACTK) was up 8.6 percent compared to February 2022. The strong uptick in ACTKs reflects the addition of belly capacity as the passenger side of the business continues to recover. International belly-capacity grew by 57.0 percent in February year-over-year, reaching 75.1 percent of the 2019 (pre-pandemic) capacity.

Several factors in the operating environment should be noted:

  • The global new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI, a leading indicator of cargo demand, continued to increase in February. China’s PMI level surpassed the critical 50-mark indicating that demand for manufactured goods from the world’s largest export economy is growing.
  • Global goods trade decreased by 1.5 percent in January; this was a slower rate of decline than the previous month of -3.3 percent.
  • The Consumer Price Index for G7 countries decreased from 6.7 percent in January to 6.4 percent in February. Inflation in producer (input) prices reduced by 2.2 percentage points to 9.6 percent in December (last available data).

“The story of air cargo in February is one of slowing declines. Year-on-year demand fell by 7.5 percent. That’s half the rate of decline experienced in January. This shifting of gears was sufficient to boost the overall industry into positive territory (+2.9 percent) compared to pre-pandemic levels.  An optimistic eye could see the start of an improvement trend that leads to market stabilisation and  a return to more normal demand patterns after dramatic ups-and-downs in recent years,” said Walsh.

February Regional Performance

  • Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease by 6.0 percent in February 2023 compared to the same month in 2022. This was a significant improvement in performance compared to January (-19.0 percent).  Airlines in the region benefitted from China’s reopening, which saw restrictions lifted and economic activities resumed. Available capacity in the region increased by 19.9 percent compared to February 2022 as more and more belly capacity came online from the passenger side of the business.
  • North American carriers posted a 3.2 percent decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023 compared to the same month in 2022. This was a solid improvement in performance compared to January (-8.7 percent). Notably, the region saw a significant increase in international demand in February which boosted its market share in international cargo traffic to beyond pre-pandemic levels (21.7 percent in Feb 2023 versus 18.2 percent in Feb 2019). Capacity increased 2.8 percent compared to February 2022.
  • European carriers saw the weakest performance of all regions with a 15.3 percent decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023 compared to the same month in 2022. This was an improvement in performance compared to January (-20.4 percent). Airlines in the region continue to be most affected by the war in Ukraine. Capacity decreased 1.5 percent in February 2023 compared to February 2022.
  • Middle Eastern carriers experienced an 8.1 percent year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023. This was a slight improvement to the previous month (-11.8 percent). Capacity increased 9.3 percent compared to February 2022.
  • Latin American carriers reported a 2.7 percent decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023 compared to February 2022. This was a drop in performance compared to January which saw a 4.6 percent increase. Capacity in February was up 27.6 percent compared to the same month in 2022.
  • African airlines saw cargo volumes decrease by 3.4 percent in February 2023 compared to February 2022. This was an improvement in performance compared to the previous month (-9.5 percent). Notably, the Africa to Asia route area experienced significant cargo demand growth in February, up 39.5 percent year-on-year. Capacity was 4.7 percent above February 2022 levels.


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