Global air travel closes in on 2019 levels

SINGAPORE, 2 February 2024: Air travel recovery continued last December, ensuring 2023’s air traffic performance edged even closer to matching pre-pandemic demand, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported earlier this week.

Total traffic in 2023 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) rose 36.9% compared to 2022. Globally, in the full year 2023, traffic was at 94.1% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels. 

December 2023 total traffic rose 25.3% compared to December 2022, reaching 97.5% of the December 2019 level. Fourth quarter traffic was at 98.2% of 2019, reflecting the strong recovery towards the end of the year.

International traffic in 2023 climbed 41.6% versus 2022 and reached 88.6% of 2019 levels. December 2023 international traffic climbed 24.2% over December 2022, reaching 94.7% of the level in December 2019. Fourth quarter traffic was at 94.5% of 2019.

Domestic traffic for 2023 rose 30.4% to close the year 3.9% above the full-year 2019 level. December 2023 domestic traffic was up 27.0% over the year-earlier period and 2.3% above December 2019 traffic. Fourth-quarter traffic was 4.4% higher than the same quarter in 2019.

“The strong post-pandemic rebound continued in 2023. December traffic stood just 2.5% below 2019 levels, with a strong performance in Q4, teeing up airlines for a return to normal growth patterns in 2024,” said IATA’s director general Willie Walsh.

“The recovery in travel is good news. The restoration of connectivity is powering the global economy as people travel to do business, further their educations, take hard-earned vacations and much more.”  

Walsh cautioned governments that to “maximise the benefits of air travel in the post-pandemic world, governments must incentivise Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production to meet net zero carbon emission goal by 2050 and adopt regulations that deliver a clear cost-benefit. 

“Completing the recovery must not be an excuse for governments to forget the critical role of aviation in increasing the prosperity and well-being of people and businesses worldwide.” 

International Passenger Markets

Asia-Pacific airlines posted a 126.1% rise in full-year international 2023 traffic compared to 2022, maintaining the strongest year-over-year rate among the regions. Capacity rose 101.8%, and the load factor climbed 9.0 percentage points to 83.1%. In December 2023, traffic rose 56.9% compared to December 2022.

European carriers’ full-year traffic climbed 22.0% versus 2022. Capacity increased 17.5%, and load factor rose 3.1 percentage points to 83.8%. Demand climbed 13.6% in December compared to the same month in 2022. December traffic was higher than the corresponding month in 2019 for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Middle Eastern airlines saw a 33.3% traffic rise in 2023 compared to 2022. Capacity increased by 26%, and load factor climbed by 4.4 percentage points to 80.1%. December demand climbed 16.6% compared to the same month in 2022.

North American carriers reported a 28.3% annual traffic rise in 2023 compared to 2022. Capacity increased 22.4%, and load factor climbed 3.9 percentage points to 84.6%. In December 2023, traffic rose 13.5% compared to the year-ago period.

Latin American airlines posted a 28.6% traffic rise in 2023 over 2022. Annual capacity climbed 25.4%, and the load factor increased 2.1 percentage points to 84.7% — the region’s highest. December demand climbed 26.5% compared to December 2022.

African airlines’ annual traffic rose 38.7% in 2023 versus the prior year. The full-year 2023 capacity was up 38.3%, and the load factor climbed 0.2 percentage points to 71.9%, the lowest among regions. December 2023, traffic for African airlines rose 9.5% over December 2022.