IATA: Strong international traffic propels continuing air travel recovery

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

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that air travel resumed its strong recovery trend in April, despite the war in Ukraine and travel restrictions in China. This was driven primarily by international demand.

Total demand for air travel in April 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was up 78.7 percent compared to April 2021 and slightly ahead of March 2022’s 76 percent year-over-year increase. April domestic air travel was down 1 percent compared to the year-ago period, a reversal from the 10.6 percent demand rise in March. This was driven entirely by continuing strict travel restrictions in China, where domestic traffic was down 80.8 percent year-to-year. Overall, April domestic traffic was down 25.8 percent versus April 2019.

Download the IATA April 2022 Passenger Market Analysis here.

International RPKs rose 331.9 percent versus April 2021, an acceleration over the 289.9 percent rise in March 2022 compared to a year ago. Several route areas are actually above pre-pandemic levels, including Europe – Central America, Middle East – North America and North America – Central America. April 2022 international RPKs were down 43.4 percent compared to the same month in 2019.

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

“With the lifting of many border restrictions, we are seeing the long-expected surge in bookings as people seek to make up for two years of lost travel opportunities. April data is cause for optimism in almost all markets, except China, which continues to severely restrict travel. The experience of the rest of the world is demonstrating that increased travel is manageable with high levels of population immunity and the normal systems for disease surveillance. We hope that China can recognise this success soon and take its own steps towards normality,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

International Passenger Markets

Cambodia has done away with all testing requirements and only requires visitors be fully vaccinated against COVID (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)
  • European carriers’ April international traffic rose 480.0 percent versus April 2021, substantially up over the 434.3 percent increase in March 2022 versus the same month in 2021. Capacity rose 233.5 percent and load factor climbed 33.7 percentage points to 79.4 percent.
  • Asia-Pacific airlines saw their April international traffic climb 290.8 percent compared to April 2021, significantly improved on the 197.2 percent gain registered in March 2022 versus March 2021. Capacity rose 88.6 percent and the load factor was up 34.6 percentage points to 66.8 percent, still the lowest among regions.
  • Middle Eastern airlines had a 265.0 percent demand rise in April compared to April 2021, bettering the 252.7 percent increase in March 2022, versus the same month in 2021. April capacity rose 101.0 percent versus the year-ago period, and load factor climbed 32.2 percentage points to 71.7 percent.
  • North American carriers’ April traffic rose 230.2 percent versus the 2021 period, slightly above the 227.9 percent rise in March 2022 compared to March 2021. Capacity rose 98.5 percent, and load factor climbed 31.6 percentage points to 79.3 percent.
  • Latin American airlines experienced a 263.2 percent rise in April traffic, compared to the same month in 2021, exceeding the 241.2 percent rise in March 2022 over March 2021. April capacity rose 189.1 percent and load factor increased 16.8 percentage points to 82.3 percent, which easily was the highest load factor among the regions for the 19th consecutive month.
  • African airlines’ traffic rose 116.2 percent in April 2022 versus a year ago, an acceleration over the 93.3 percent year-over-year increase recorded in March 2022. April 2022 capacity was up 65.7 percent and load factor climbed 15.7 percentage points to 67.3 percent.

Domestic Passenger Markets

Australia’s domestic demand rose 47.5 percent compared to April 2021, an improvement over the 36.5 percent rise in March traffic, owing to the lifting of travel restrictions and rising consumer confidence. Japan likewise saw monthly gains, with domestic RPKs up 57.0 percent year-over-year, up from a 46.5 percent rise in March 2022 compared to March 2021.

Total April passenger demand was down 37.2 percent compared to the same month in 2019, which is an improvement compared to the 41.3 percent decline for March 2022 versus March 2019.

“With the northern summer travel season now upon us, two things are clear: two-years of border restrictions have not weakened the desire for the freedom to travel,” Walsh said. “Where it is permitted, demand rapidly is returning to pre-COVID levels. However, it is also evident that the failings in how governments managed the pandemic have continued into the recovery. With governments making U-turns and policy changes there was uncertainty until the last minute, leaving little time to restart an industry that was largely dormant for two years. It is no wonder that we are seeing operational delays in some locations. In those few locations where these problems are recurring, solutions need to be found so passengers can travel with confidence.

“In less than two weeks, leaders of the global aviation community will gather in Doha at the 78th IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit. This year’s AGM will take place as a wholly in-person event for the first time since 2019. It should send a strong signal that it is time for governments to lift any remaining restrictions and requirements and prepare for an enthusiastic response by consumers who are voting with their feet for a full restoration of their right to travel,” said Walsh.

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