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ME air passengers to top pre-Covid levels in 2025: Iata

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 1, 2022

Middle East air passenger numbers are expected to reach 81% of 2019 levels in 2022, 98% in 2024 and 105% in 2025 exceeding pre-Covid-19 levels, said the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

With limited short-haul markets, the Middle East focus on long-haul connectivity through its hubs is expected to result in slower recovery, it added.

Africa’s passenger traffic prospects are somewhat weaker in the near-term, due to slow progress in vaccinating the population, and the impact of the crisis on developing economies. Passenger numbers to/from/within Africa will recover more gradually than in other regions, reaching 76% of 2019 levels in 2022, surpassing pre-crisis levels only in 2025 (101%).

Globally, traveller numbers are expected to reach 4 billion in 2024 (counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger), (103% of the 2019 total), Iata said.

Expectations for the shape of the near-term recovery have shifted slightly, reflecting the evolution of government-imposed travel restrictions in some markets. The overall picture presented in the latest update to Iata’s long-term forecast, however, is unchanged from what was expected in November, prior to the Omicron variant.

“The trajectory for the recovery in passenger numbers from Covid-19 was not changed by the Omicron variant. 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,” said Willie Walsh, Iata’s Director General.

The February update to the long-term forecast includes the following highlights:

•    In 2021, overall traveller numbers were 47% of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 83% in 2022, 94% in 2023, 103% in 2024 and 111% in 2025.

•    In 2021, international traveller numbers were 27% of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 69% in 2022, 82% in 2023, 92% in 2024 and 101% in 2025.

The outlook for the evolution of domestic traveller numbers is slightly more pessimistic than in November. While the US and Russian domestic markets have recovered, the same is not true for the other major domestic markets of China, Canada, Japan and Australia.

“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.

Other regional variations

“In general, we are moving in the right direction, but there are some concerns. Asia-Pacific is the laggard of the 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 localized lock-downs in its domestic market are depressing global passenger numbers even as other major markets like the US are largely back to normal,” he added.

Traffic to/from/within Asia Pacific will only reach 68% of 2019 levels in 2022, the weakest outcome of the main regions. 2019 levels should be recovered in 2025 (109%) due to a slow recovery on international traffic in the region.

Total passenger numbers to/from/within Europe are expected to reach 86% of 2019 values in 2022, before making a full recovery in 2024 (105%), while passenger numbers in the North America will reach 94% of 2019 levels in 2022, and full recovery is expected in 2023 (102%), ahead of other regions.

For Latin America, 2019 passenger numbers are forecast to be surpassed in 2023 for Central America (102%), followed by South America in 2024 (103%) and the Caribbean in 2025 (101%).

Russia-Ukraine conflict

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 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.

The impact on airline costs as a result of fluctuations in energy prices or rerouting to avoid Russian airspace could have broader implications. Consumer confidence and economic activity are likely to be impacted even outside of Eastern Europe.  – TradeArabia News Service




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