Pandemic wipes out 15 years of airline passenger growth
10:20, 3 January 2022
The Covid-19 pandemic has wiped out 15 years of airline passenger growth, with air traffic falling back to 1999 levels last year, a new report has found.
According to the latest Cirium Airline Insights Review 2021, from January to September 2021 (based on full-months available), there was 56% less passenger traffic versus the same period in 2019.
“Domestic passenger traffic accounts for 79% of total traffic in this period and international traffic accounts for 21%. When looking back at 2019, domestic traffic accounted for 58% of the total, and international 42%,” the report said.
From a regional perspective, passenger traffic in Europe was down the most compared to 2019 levels, with 66% less traffic year-over-year. In the Asia-Pacific region, traffic was down 61%; in the Middle East, it was 60% less than 2019; and in Latin America and the Caribbean, it was down 55%. North America showed a more positive outlook, with 40% less passenger traffic than pre-pandemic levels.
Outlook for the year ahead
According to the review, the latest outlook for the airline industry is more optimistic compared to predictions for 2020.
“For 2022, capacity is projected to grow at 47%, recovering to around 2015 levels. However, our long term forecast is that the world will still have lost some three to four years of growth – as far into the future as 2038,” the report said.
Overall, it said recovery proceeded more quickly in countries where vaccination rates were above 70% and where domestic travel restrictions were removed.
“The world has seen steady improvement in airline traffic and capacity through 2021, with most markets moving in the right direction. We knew domestic markets would be the first to recover. However, certain domestic markets are now growth stories, including Russia and China - and the US and Brazil are not far behind,” the report said.
The Insights Review also highlighted that transatlantic travel may not return to 2019 levels until sometime in 2023, and added that fares are likely to jump. In the longer term, there may be under upward pressure due to sustainability initiatives.
“If we rewind to summer 2021, New York to London fares rose significantly for travel in August compared to 2019 one-way economy. Economy fares rose from $300 to $396, up some 32%,” the Cirium publication said.
“In contrast, business class fares dropped 10%, from $1,598 to $1,441 for travel in August 2021. UK carriers were eager to add capacity when the US reopened in early November. Until we see data from November and December 2021 – there’s always a lag - it will be hard to predict the return of the transatlantic corridor,” it added.
Atlanta topped the list as the busiest airport by arriving flights tracked between January 1 and October 31, 2021.
Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Houston and Seattle were also in the top ten, while Shanghai, Beijing and Delhi were among the top 20 busiest airports last year.
“From January to October 2021 (based on full-months available), the total number of passenger flights reached around 17,882,000 compared to 15,000,000 in 2020, so the recovery is underway. However, compared to the same timeframe in 2019, flights are still 38% down year-over-year from a total of 28,980,000 flights tracked in 2019,” Jeremy Bowen, Cirium’s chief executive added.
The report also noted the impact the pandemic had last year on aircraft delivery:
“Initially, it was due to a lack of appetite by airlines to take new aircraft amid ongoing lockdowns, but more recently there have been supply-chain issues and the enforced suspension of Boeing 787 deliveries amid production quality issues.
“Airbus remains on course to achieve its 2021 target of around 600 shipments, almost 90% of which will be from its single-aisle lines. The picture is far less certain at Boeing, with no end in sight yet for the pause in B787 deliveries and a sustained large inventory of undelivered aircraft including some 320 B737 MAX at year end,” the report added.
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