Worldwide air travel almost back at pre-pandemic levels

Last year, air traffic practically recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which indicates that air traffic grew, in 2023, by 36.9%, reaching 94.1% of levels pre-pandemic.

IATA data, which were released this Wednesday, January 31, show that, in the fourth and final quarter of 2023, air traffic has already reached 98.2% of 2019 levels, with IATA highlighting that this value reflects “the strong recovery at the end of the year”, which translated into growth of 25.3% in December, leading to 97.5% of December 2019 levels being reached in that month.

The recovery of international traffic has been slower, which grew 41.6% last year, reaching 88.6% of 2019 levels, with IATA indicating that, in the fourth quarter of the year, this indicator reached 94. 5% of 2019 levels.

IATA also adds that, in December last year, international traffic grew 24.2% compared to December 2022, reaching 94.7% of the December 2019 level.

The most positive was the recovery in domestic traffic, which grew 0.4% compared to the previous year, remaining “3.9% above the level of 2019”, according to IATA, which says that, in December, domestic traffic suffered an increase of 27.0% compared to the same period of the previous year and was 2.3% above the traffic of December 2019, having also been positive in the last quarter of the year, when it was already 4.4% above the same period 2019.

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“The strong post-pandemic recovery continued into 2023. December traffic was just 2.5% below 2019 levels, with a strong performance in the fourth quarter, setting airlines up for a return to normal growth patterns in 2024. The recovery in travel is good news”, considers Willie Walsh, director general of IATA.

By region, it was in Asia-Pacific that air traffic grew the most over the last year, an increase that reached 126.1% compared to 2022 and which was once again the highest among all regions in the world. In this region, air capacity also increased by 101.8%, while the load factor grew by 9.0 percentage points, standing at 83.1%. Considering only the month of December, growth in the Asia-Pacific region was 56.9% compared to 2022.

African airlines saw air traffic increase by 38.7% in 2023, while capacity rose by 38.3% and load factor increased by 0.2 percentage points, to 71.9%, the lowest among regions in the world. IATA also points out that traffic in 2023 showed an increase of 9.5% compared to 2022.

In the Middle East, air traffic grew 33.3% last year compared to 2022 and capacity increased by 26%, while load factor increased by 4.4 percentage points, to 80.1%. Traffic in December grew 16.6% compared to the same month in the previous year.

In Latin America, air traffic grew by 28.6% last year compared to the previous year and capacity increased by 25.4%, with an increase of 2.1 percentage points in the load factor, which rose to 84.7%, the highest among the various regions of the world. Compared to December 2022, traffic in this region still grew by 26.5%.

In North America, the increase in air traffic grew by 28.3% last year, while available capacity increased by 22.4% and the load factor gained 3.9 percentage points, standing at 84.6%. Traffic in December grew 13.5% compared to the same month of the previous year.

Europe was the region of the world where air traffic grew least last year, with an increase of 22.0%, which was accompanied by a 17.5% increase in capacity, which dictated a load factor of 83.8%, after having grown by 3.1 percentage points over the past year. December traffic in Europe also grew by 13.6%, with IATA highlighting that, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, this region surpassed the value for the corresponding month of 2019.

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