World airlines have projected full industry recovery in 2024, with the sector ferrying as much as four billion passengers yearly like it did pre-COVID-19.
The airlines, under the aegis of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the withdrawal of travel restrictions had brightened the industry’s prospects.
The new forecast released yesterday, however, predicted weaker growth for airlines in Nigeria and other African countries, due to slow progress in vaccinating the population, and the impact of the crisis on developing economies.
Passenger numbers to, from and within Africa will recover more gradually than in other regions, reaching 76 per cent of 2019 levels in 2022, and surpassing pre-crisis levels only in 2025.
IATA’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, noted that the trajectory for the recovery in passenger numbers from COVID-19 was not changed by the Omicron variant. Reason: “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,” Walsh said.
In 2021, the number of overall travellers was 47 per cent of 2019 levels. 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. This 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.
This is a slightly more optimistic near-term international recovery scenario compared to November 2021, based on the progressive relaxation or elimination of travel restrictions in many markets.
This has seen improvements in the major North Atlantic and intra-European markets, strengthening the baseline for recovery. Asia-Pacific is expected to continue to lag the recovery with the region’s largest market, China, not showing any signs of relaxing its severe border measures in the near future.
Walsh reiterated that the biggest and most immediate drivers of passenger numbers are the restrictions that governments place on travel.
“Fortunately, more governments have understood that travel restrictions have little to no long-term impact on the spread of a virus. And the economic and social hardship caused for very limited benefit is simply no longer acceptable in a growing number of markets. As a result, the progressive removal of restrictions is giving a much-needed boost to the prospects for travel,” said Walsh.
IATA reiterated calls 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.
It also called for the removal of all travel bans and accelerated easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread than already exists in the general population.
The forecast, IATA noted, 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 what the near-term consequences will be for aviation, but it is clear that there are downside risks, in particular in markets with exposure to the conflict.
“Sensitivity factors will include the geographic extent, severity, and time period for sanctions and/or airspace closures. These impacts would be felt most severely in Russia, Ukraine and neighbouring areas. Pre-COVID-19, Russia was the 11th largest market for air transport services in terms of passenger numbers, including its large domestic market. Ukraine ranked 48.