Global air traffic returns close to pre-pandemic level

Global air traffic returned to 94% of the 2019 level over the course of last year and reached 97.5% in December, with a 37% increase on 2022, according to the latest data from airline association Iata.

International air traffic remained just above 89% of the 2019 level for the year despite a near 42% rise on 2022.

But international traffic in December reached 95% of the pre-pandemic level, and was 1% up ion 2019 n Europe and 5.5% up in North America. International traffic in the Asia-Pacific region remained 17.5% down on 2019 in December.

Global domestic traffic rose above 2019 levels for the year owing to increases in the US, China and India.

Annual international traffic in Europe hit 93% of the 2019 level in 2023, 98% in the Middle East and surpassed 2019 by 1% in North America but remained 27% down in Asia-Pacific despite more than doubling year on year.

Total air traffic in 2023 was up 37% on 2022.

Iata director general Willie Walsh hailed the recovery in 2023 and “strong performance” in the fourth quarter for “teeing up a return to normal growth patterns in 2024”.

But he argued: “Completing the recovery must not be an excuse for governments to forget the critical role of aviation.”

He suggested: “Governments need to take a strategic approach to maximise the benefits of air travel. That means providing cost-efficient infrastructure, incentivising Sustainable Aviation Fuel production, and adopting regulations that deliver a clear cost-benefit.”

Walsh noted: “We saw a strong increase in the use of SAF in 2023, but SAF is still only 3% of global renewable fuels production. That is unacceptable.

“Aircraft have no option but to rely on liquid fuels. Other transport modes have alternatives. A massive effort is needed to increase SAF output.”

Traffic in Europe last year rose 22% on 2022 and capacity increased 17.5%, with demand in December above the December 2019 level – the first time monthly traffic has surpassed 2019 levels since the start of the pandemic.

Middle East airlines saw a 33% increase in traffic last year and added 26% in capacity, with demand in December up almost 17% year on year.

Traffic in North America rose by 28% and capacity by 22% on 2022.

Latin American carriers reported a 29% increase in traffic and 25% rise capacity in 2023, and air traffic in Africa rose 39% and capacity 38% over the year.

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