Global air traffic surpasses pre-pandemic levels

Graphic of global air traffic
Image Credit: ICAO
Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read

In the wake of the global pandemic, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been closely monitoring the recovery of the aviation industry.

Moving into Q1 of 2024, projections indicate a promising trajectory for the year. Passenger air traffic levels are now compararable to 2019.

According to the international body, airlines are expected to sustain their operating profitability seen in 2023.

ICAO’s Projections for 2024

Passenger Traffic Surge

ICAO projects a significant uptick in passenger air traffic levels, expecting a 2% increase compared to 2019.

This optimistic forecast suggests a sustained operating profitability for airlines, building upon the recovery witnessed in 2023.

Key Factors Driving Recovery

President of the ICAO Council, Salvatore Sciacchitano, emphasizes the pivotal role played by member states in aligning their pandemic responses with ICAO’s guidance.

Moving forward, the implementation of post-pandemic strategies outlined by ICAO is deemed crucial. This will assure resilience and sustainability of the recovery.

A jet parked at the terminal at sunset.

Demand Forecast

Demand for air travel in 2024 is forecasted to surpass 2019 levels by approximately 3%, with the potential to reach 4% given a stronger pace of recovery in certain routes.

This translates to a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 0.5% over the 2019-2024 period.

In contrast, global demand for freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) is projected to remain below 2019 levels by approximately 2% throughout 2024.

This decline primarily reflects anticipated reductions in demand amidst ongoing economic weaknesses on a global scale.

Environmental Sustainability

ICAO Secretary General, Juan Carlos Salazar, highlights the importance of moves towards decarbonizing air transport by 2050.

“The aspirational goals agreed upon by governments towards the decarbonization of air transport by 2050 are supporting the environmental sustainability of the recovery and future development of the global air transport network,” he said.

Efforts to achieve environmental sustainability are bolstered by initiatives aimed at accelerating the development and implementation of cleaner aviation technologies and fuels.

“ICAO’s latest air traffic forecasts are promising for global development and a reminder that the global community must accelerate its sustainability efforts,” said Salazar.

Insights from 2023

Route Recovery

By the end of 2023, air traffic on most routes had either reached or surpassed pre-pandemic levels, marking a significant milestone in the industry’s recovery journey.

Notable regions that exceeded 2019 levels include intra-Europe routes and those connecting Europe with North America, the Middle East, South West Asia, and Africa.

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Regional Disparities

However, regional variations persist, with many Asian routes still experiencing substantially lower traffic levels compared to pre-pandemic times.

This highlights the uneven nature of the recovery process across different parts of the world.

A view of an airport terminal interior with air travellers.
Markus Winkler via Pexels.

Cargo Traffic

Cargo traffic, measured in FTK, remained 3% below 2019 levels in 2023, reflecting ongoing challenges in the global economy.

Profitability

Despite economic uncertainties and soaring fuel prices, airlines managed to maintain total operating profits at USD 39 billion in 2023, mirroring the levels seen in 2019.

Increased passenger yields and productivity gains have been instrumental in sustaining profitability, particularly for airlines in North America and Europe.

Conclusion

The projections and insights provided by ICAO offer a glimpse into the evolving dynamic of the aviation industry in 2024.

While recovery efforts continue to show promise, challenges still remain. In particular, ICAO point to issues of environmental sustainability and addressing regional disparities in air traffic.


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ICAO analysis has revealed that global passenger air traffic levels are now at a comparable level to the pre-pandemic era, with 2% uptick predicted for 2024.
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