The aviation industry could return to pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels sooner than expected, according to the director general of the International Air Transport Association.
Willie Walsh told Reuters that the industry could reach 2019 traffic levels in 2023, a year earlier than previously forecast. The war in Ukraine, ongoing restrictions in China, high oil prices, and travel delays from staff shortages are not denting the recovery so far, he said.
“I don’t think we should be distracted from the fact we are seeing a strong recovery and I think that recovery will gather momentum as we go through the rest of this year into 2023,” Reuters quoted Walsh as saying in an interview on May 9, 2022.
“We’re seeing very strong bookings,” Walsh added. “Certainly all the airline CEOs I’m talking to are seeing not just good demand for year-end travel but they continue to see demand as they looked through the year.”
IATA data for March 2022 showed strong growth in passenger traffic compared to 2021, with Europe leading the recovery.
In March 2022, traffic measured in revenue passenger kilometers rose 76% compared to March 2021. That’s still a drop of 41.3% compared with March 2019 levels, but an improvement on the 45.5% drop seen in February.
“With barriers to travel coming down in most places, we are seeing the long-expected surge in pent-up demand finally being realized,” Walsh commented in the traffic data release on May 4, 2022.
However, Walsh also cautioned about a lack of resources to handle the return of demand. “Many people have waited two years for a summer holiday – it should not be ruined through lack of preparation.”