KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects overall traveller numbers to reach 4.0 billion in 2024 (counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger), exceeding pre-Covid-19 levels at 103 per cent of the 2019 total.
It said expectations for the shape of the near-term recovery had shifted slightly, reflecting the evolution of government-imposed travel restrictions in some markets.
However, the overall picture presented in the latest update to IATA’s long-term forecast is unchanged from what was expected in November, before the Omicron variant.
“The Omicron variant did not change the trajectory for the recovery in passenger numbers from Covid-19. People want to travel. And when travel restrictions are lifted, they return to the skies.
“There is still a long way to go to reach a normal state of affairs, but the forecast for the evolution in passenger numbers gives good reason to be optimistic,” IATA’s director-general Willie Walsh said in a statement yesterday.
The association said that in 2021, overall traveller numbers were 47 per cent of 2019 levels, and this is expected to improve to 83 per cent in 2022, 94 per cent in 2023, 103 per cent in 2024 and 111 per cent in 2025.
“In 2021, international traveller numbers were 27 per cent of 2019 levels and it is expected to improve to 69 per cent in 2022, 82 per cent in 2023, 92 per cent in 2024 and 101 per cent in 2025.
“Meanwhile, domestic traveller numbers were 61 per cent of 2019 levels in 2021 and this is expected to improve to 93 per cent in 2022, 103 per cent in 2023, 111 per cent in 2024 and 118 per cent in 2025,” it said.
Walsh said the biggest and most immediate drivers of passenger numbers are governments’ restrictions on travel. Fortunately, more governments have understood that travel restrictions have little to no long-term impact on the spread of the virus.
IATA also reiterates its call for the removal of all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine; pre-departure antigen testing to enable quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers; removing all travel bans, and accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for Covid-19 spread than already exists in the general population.
“In general, we are moving in the right direction, but there are some concerns. The Asia Pacific is the laggard of recovery. While Australia and New Zealand have announced measures to reconnect with the world, China is showing no signs of relaxing its zero-Covid strategy.
“The resulting localised lock-downs in its domestic market are depressing global passenger numbers even as other major markets like the US are largely back to normal,” said Walsh.
The slow removal of international travel restrictions and the likelihood of renewed domestic restrictions during Covid outbreaks mean that traffic to/from/within the Asia Pacific will only reach 68 per cent of 2019 levels in 2022, the weakest outcome of the main regions.
The 2019 levels should be recovered in 2025 (109 per cent) due to a slow recovery in international traffic in the region.
IATA said the forecast does not calculate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
In general, air transport is resilient against shocks and this conflict is unlikely to impact the long-term growth of air transport. It is too early to estimate the near-term consequences for aviation, but it is clear that there are downside risks, particularly in markets with exposure to the conflict, it said.