Air Travel Recovery Slowed In January
IATA is reporting that the recovery in air travel slowed for both domestic and international in January 2022 compared to December 2021, owing to the imposition of travel restrictions following the emergence of Omicron last November.
The industry association also noted that it is now returning to year-on-year traffic comparisons, instead of comparisons with the 2019 period, unless otherwise noted. Owing to the low traffic base in 2021, some markets will show very high year-on-year growth rates, even if the size of these markets is still significantly smaller than they were in 2019.
- Total demand for air travel in January 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was up 82.3% compared to January 2021. However, it was down 4.9% compared to the previous month (December 2021) on a seasonally adjusted basis.
- January domestic air travel was up 41.5% compared to the year-ago period but fell 7.2% compared to December 2021 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
- International RPKs rose 165.6% versus January 2021 but fell by 2.2% month-on-month between December 2021 and January 2022 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
Willie Walsh, director general, IATA, observed that: “The recovery in air travel continued in January, despite hitting a speed bump called Omicron. Strengthened border controls did not stop the spread of the variant. But where population immunity was strong, the public health systems were not overwhelmed. Many governments are now adjusting COVID-19 polices to align with those for other endemic viruses. This includes lifting travel restrictions that have had such a devastating impact on lives, economies and the freedom to travel.”
IATA also points out that the January figures do not include any impact from the Russia-Ukraine conflict which began at the end of February.
The resulting sanctions and airspace closures are expected to have a negative impact on travel, primarily among neighboring countries.
It points out that
- The Ukraine market accounted for 3.3% of European passenger traffic and 0.8% of global traffic in 2021.
- The Russian international market represented 5.7% of European traffic (excluding Russia domestic market) and 1.3% of global traffic in 2021.
- Airspace closures have led to rerouting or cancellations of flights on some routes, mostly in the Europe-Asia but also in Asia-North America market. This impact is mitigated owing to greatly diminished flight activity since borders in Asia were largely closed owing to COVID-19. In 2021, RPKs flown between Asia-North America and Asia-Europe accounted for 3.0%, and 4.5%, respectively, of global international RPKs.
IATA also points out that in addition to these disruptions, the sudden spike in fuel prices is putting pressure on airline costs, with Walsh observing that: “When we made our most recent industry financial forecast last autumn, we expected the airline industry to lose $11.6 billion in 2022 with jet fuel at $78/barrel and fuel accounting for 20% of costs.”
He pointed out that: “As of 4 March, jet fuel is trading at over $140/barrel. Absorbing such a massive hit on costs just as the industry is struggling to cut losses as it emerges from the two-year COVID-19 crisis is a huge challenge. If the jet fuel price stays that high, then over time, it is reasonable to expect that it will be reflected in airline yields.”
As for the bottom line, Walsh said that: “The past few weeks have seen a dramatic shift by many governments around the world to ease or remove COVID-19-related travel restrictions and requirements as the disease enters its endemic phase. It’s vital that this process continue and even accelerate, to more quickly restore damaged global supply chains and enable people to resume their lives.”
IATA’s director general continued: “One step to encourage a return to normality is to remove mask mandates for air travel. It makes no sense to continue to require masks on airplanes when they are no longer being required in shopping malls, theatres or offices. Aircraft are equipped with highly sophisticated hospital quality filtration systems and have much higher air flow and air exchange rates than most other indoor environments where mask mandates already have been removed.”
Go to www.iata.org for more.