International air travel continues to recover as it rides on demand surge in June

Air travel continued to recover in June as international traffic more than tripled, with the lifting of restrictions in most parts of the Asia-Pacific region largely contributing to the growth, the International Air Travel Association (Iata) has said.

Total air traffic in the month — measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) — rose more than two thirds, compared to June 2021, primarily propelled by an annual surge in international traffic of about 230 per cent, the global aviation body said in its monthly update released on Friday.

The results now put global traffic at about 71 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, another improvement from May’s 69 per cent. Iata noted that its June report has returned to year-on-year comparisons, unless otherwise specified.

Meanwhile, domestic traffic for the month climbed 5.2 per cent a year, with strong improvements in most markets, combined with the easing of some lockdown restrictions related to the Omicron coronavirus strain in the Chinese domestic market, Iata said.

Total domestic traffic for June was at more than 81.4 per cent of the levels recorded in June 2019.

“Demand for air travel remains strong. After two years of lockdowns and border restrictions, people are taking advantage of the freedom to travel wherever they can,” said Iata director general Willie Walsh.

Aviation was among the industries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which had a domino effect on tourism, hospitality and supply chains. However, the sector is making a gradual recovery.

Many major international routes — particularly those within Europe, the Middle East and North America — had already surpassed pre-pandemic levels owing to the necessity of travel, Mr Walsh said in Iata’s May update.

Airlines are expected to narrow their losses in 2022 — from $42bn last year to $9.7bn this year — as air travel demand makes a strong rebound, with a return to profitability expected in 2023, Iata said in June.

June’s international air traffic in the Asia-Pacific was up almost sixfold, compared with June 2021, with capacity rising 139 per cent. The region, which is now relatively open to foreign visitors and tourism, will drive global aviation’s recovery, Iata noted.

In China, the world’s largest aviation market, domestic RPKs fell 45 per cent annually in June, but it was still a substantial improvement compared to May’s year-on-year performance as lockdown measures have been eased.

Meanwhile, domestic traffic in Japan more than doubled.

Middle Eastern international air traffic posted the second-highest increase in June as it more than tripled from a year ago, with capacity more than doubling. European airlines reported similar improvements.

In North America, traffic rose 169 per cent annually, with capacity almost doubling. The traffic and capacity of Latin American airlines more than doubled during the month.

Mr Walsh said the aviation industry should brace for the coming travel season, where demand is expected to further rise. While acknowledging continued difficulties, he also hit out at governments that are impeding the sector’s growth.

“With the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season now fully under way, predictions that the lifting of travel restrictions would unleash a torrent of pent-up travel demand are being borne out. At the same time, meeting that demand has proved challenging and likely will continue to be so,” Mr Walsh said.

“All the more reason to continue to show flexibility to the slot use rules. The European Commission’s intent to return to the longstanding 80-20 requirement is premature,” he said, referring to the EU’s plans to return to loosen its rules on airline takeoff and landing slots as its airports try to find balance between a surge in travellers and a shortage of workers.

“By capping passenger numbers, airports are preventing airlines from benefitting from the strong demand.”

Traffic for African airlines more than doubled, with capacity up 62 per cent. Iata said international traffic between the continent and its neighbouring regions was approaching pre-pandemic levels.

However, Mr Walsh issued a warning last month that the high price of oil would, “without doubt”, result in more expensive airline tickets, and said that the commodity was the single biggest element of an airline’s cost base.

On Wednesday, Iata said that global air cargo demand dropped 6.4 per cent annually in June as new export orders fell and the Russia-Ukraine war limited freight capacity.

Updated: August 05, 2022, 11:08 AM

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