A leading airlines association predicts the overall number of travellers to surpass those of 2019 within two years.

A report by the International Air Transport Association outlined a prediction of four billion travellers in 2024, 103 per cent of the number from the year prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

IATA found the total number of travellers in 2021 was approximately 47 per cent of the number from 2019. These figures refer to both domestic and international flights. They forecast the number to rise to 83 per cent this year, followed by 103 per cent in 2024. Assuming current trends continue, they expect traveller numbers to reach 111 per cent of 2019 levels in 2025.

Domestic travel notably fared far better than its international counterpart, as border-crossing travel restrictions remain in place across various corners of the world; it dropped to only 61% of 2019 levels last year.

Rate of recovery varies by region

Recent forecasts reflect the continued relaxation of travel restrictions, with optimism ever increasing in the rate of recovery of the aviation industry.

The European and North Atlantic markets are already showing strong signs of improvement, but the Asia-Pacific lags behind. This is due in part to China, the Asia-Pacific’s largest market, showing no indication that it plans to relax its travel restrictions soon.

Aircraft parked at LAX
European and North American markets are recovering more quickly than the Asia-Pacific | © Moto Miwa

There is slight variation in recovery periods for other regions too. According to IATA, 2019 traveller numbers figures are expected to be surpassed in Central America in 2023, in South America in 2024, and in the Caribbean in 2025.

Government restrictions main restrictor of traveller numbers

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General and former CEO of International Airlines Group, is reported to have stressed that travel restrictions remain the key restrictor of passenger numbers:

“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.”

Russo-Ukrainian War not factored in

IATA did stress that this batch of predictions did not factor in any knock-on effects of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Whilst the war has caused widespread disruption to air travel in Europe and further afield, the association played down the potential impact, saying “air transport is resilient against shocks and this conflict is unlikely to impact the long-term growth of air transport.”

Do you agree with IATA’s predictions? Let us know in the comments below.

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