If you were wondering what the long-term holds for air transportation, a new forecast released by IATA and Tourism Economics demonstrates that post-COVID-19, people will be eager to travel in both the short-term and the long-term.
In unveiling the details, IATA points out that in order to ensure that aviation can sustainably deliver its social and economic benefits as it meets this long-term demand, it is critical that governments step-up their support for more efficient operations and foster an effective energy transition.
Highlights of the IATA/Tourism Economics forecast include:
- In 2021, global passenger numbers are expected to recover to 52% of pre-COVID-19 levels (2019).
- In 2022, global passenger numbers are expected to recover to 88% of pre-COVID-19 levels.
- In 2023, global passenger numbers are expected to surpass pre-COVID-19 levels (105%).
- By 2030, global passenger numbers are expected to have grown to 5.6 billion. That would be 7% below the pre-COVID-19 forecast and an estimated loss of 2-3 years of growth due to COVID-19.
- Beyond 2030, air travel is expected to slow, due to weaker demographics and a baseline assumption of limited market liberalisation, giving average annual growth between 2019 and 2039 of 3.2%. IATA’s pre-COVID-19 growth forecast for this period was 3.8%.
The forecast notes that the recovery in passenger numbers is slightly stronger than the recovery in demand measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), which is expected to grow by an annual average of 3% between 2019 and 2039. This is owing to the expected strength of domestic markets like China with large passenger numbers and shorter distances.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, observed: “I am always optimistic about aviation. We are in the deepest and gravest crisis in our history. But the rapidly growing vaccinated population and advancements in testing will return the freedom to fly in the months ahead. And when that happens, people are going to want to travel.”
However, Walsh continued: “The immediate challenge is to reopen borders, eliminate quarantine measures and digitally manage vaccination/testing certificates. At the same time, we must assure the world that aviation’s long-term growth prospects are supported with an unwavering commitment to sustainability.”
But, Walsh emphasized: “Both challenges require governments and industry to work in partnership. Aviation is ready. But I don’t see governments moving fast enough.”
Looking at the restart in the short-term, the IATA forecast makes it clear that the damage of the COVID-19 crisis will be felt for years to come, but all indications are that people have retained their need and desire to travel:
- Any possibility for borders to re-open is met with an instant surge in bookings. The most recent example is the 100-percentage point spike in bookings from the UK to Portugal when the UK’s “Green List” was announced in early May.
- The economy is strong and can fuel growth in travel. February 2021 industrial production levels stood at 2% above February 2019 levels.
- Consumers have accumulated savings in the lockdowns, in some cases exceeding 10% of GDP.
- Vaccination rates in developed countries (with the notable exception of Japan) should exceed 50% of the population by the third quarter of 2021.
Said Walsh: “This should be a clarion call to governments to get ready. The travel and tourism sector is a major contributor to GDP. People’s livelihoods are at stake. To avoid greater long-term economic and social damage, restart must not be delayed.”
He continued: “Governments can facilitate a safe restart with policies that enable restriction-free travel for vaccinated people, and testing alternatives for those unable to be vaccinated. Governments must also be ready with processes to digitally manage the vaccine or test certificates—ensuring that a safe restart is also efficient.”