LONDON – “Industry recovery remains on track despite headwinds,” IATA announced in a release issued on 10 February 2023.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released the air passenger and cargo traffic numbers for December and 2022 full year, showing the progress of the airline industry in returning to pre-pandemic traffic levels.
IATA stated: “Airlines continued to demonstrate resilience and adaptability in this challenging post-pandemic environment.”
Resilience and Adaptability
2022 saw increased momentum in the recovery of passenger traffic. 2021 saw approximately 42% of revenue passenger-kilometers (RPKs) whereas 2022 saw approximately 69% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Industry-wide RPKs grew by almost 40% year-on-year in December and finished the year at only 23.1% below December 2019 levels.
The data also showed that Domestic and International RPKs grew 10.9% and 152.7% year on year, respectively, with IATA acknowledging that consumers were showing “a strong willingness to travel wherever travel restrictions were taken down, propelling a strong rebound in international traffic.”
The increase in RPKs being primarily driven by international traffic as countries removed COVID restrictions and airline networks started to increase through the year.
A positive step in the recovery of air travel was the easing of travel restrictions to and from China. As heavily reported in various articles by AviationSource, many carriers have re-opened their networks to PR China and other destinations in Asia with this easing.
Asia-Pacific traffic increased 302.7% in December 2022 compared to December 2021 due to the easing of travel restrictions. Airlines in the region showed an increase of over 360% in full-year international traffic in 2022 compared to 2021.
They continued to show the strongest year-on-year rate as a global region. Asia-Pacific is a significant proportion of the world share of RPKs.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, said: “The industry left 2022 in far stronger shape than it entered, as most governments lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions during the year and people took advantage of the restoration of their freedom to travel.”
“his momentum is expected to continue in the New Year, despite some governments’ over-reactions to China’s re-opening.”
In contrast, air cargo demand in 2022, measured by cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), was reported as 8% lower compared to 2021. IATA reported a “softening” of cargo demand in 2022 and the year ended 7.4% lower than pre-pandemic levels in December and 1.6% lower comparing full years with 2019.
Air cargo saw an increase in demand in the latter stages of 2020 due to changes in supply chains as a response to the pandemic – with increases in demand for PPE and other critical cargo.
On a positive note, IATA expects air cargo yield and revenue to remain high and above 2019 levels.
Challenges and Opportunities
IATA notes that the air passenger industry is facing various challenges going into 2023. Economic growth slowing and high inflation, rising fuel prices, and the ongoing war in Ukraine are all factors airlines must continue to adapt to.
In IATA’s 2022 Annual Review, Walsh reported the expectation that “by the end of 2023, most regions will be at—or exceeding— pre-pandemic levels of demand.”
Walsh also said “Let us hope that 2022 becomes known as the year in which governments locked away forever the regulatory shackles that kept their citizens earthbound for so long.”
“It is vital that governments learn the lesson that travel restrictions and border closures have little positive impact in terms of slowing the spread of infectious diseases in our globally inter-connected world.”
“However, they have an enormous negative impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as on the global economy that depends on the unfettered movement of people and goods.”
IATA, the International Air Transport Association, is the leading global trade association of the world’s airlines.