Air Travel Nears Full Recovery in 2023, IATA Reports

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revealed encouraging data showing that global air travel demand made a significant rebound in 2023, nearing pre-pandemic levels.

This upward trend reflects a resilient recovery in the aviation sector, with total traffic (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rising by 36.9% compared to 2022. By the end of 2023, air traffic had reached 94.1% of the levels seen before the pandemic struck in 2019.

December 2023, in particular, saw a 25.3% increase in total traffic compared to the same month in 2022, achieving 97.5% of December 2019’s level. The fourth quarter of 2023 was especially strong, with traffic hitting 98.2% of the levels from 2019, indicating a robust recovery as the year closed.

International traffic in 2023 climbed an impressive 41.6% over 2022, reaching 88.6% of the 2019 figures. The final month of 2023 alone witnessed a 24.2% rise in international traffic compared to December 2022, hitting 94.7% of December 2019 levels. The trend continued into the fourth quarter, with traffic reaching 94.5% of the 2019 benchmark.

The recovery was not limited to international routes; domestic air travel in 2023 saw a 30.4% increase compared to the previous year. Remarkably, domestic traffic for the full year was 3.9% higher than in 2019. December 2023’s domestic traffic rose by 27.0% over the same period in the previous year, reaching 2.3% above the December 2019 traffic, with the fourth quarter surpassing the same period in 2019 by 4.4%.

IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, emphasized the importance of this recovery for the global economy. He highlighted the vital role of aviation in connecting people for business, education, and leisure, and the need for strategic government action to support the industry. This includes providing cost-efficient infrastructure, incentivizing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production, and adopting beneficial regulations.

The report also provided a regional breakdown of the recovery. Notably, Asia-Pacific airlines led the international market recovery with a 126.1% rise in traffic compared to 2022, and European carriers saw their full-year traffic climb 22.0% over 2022. The Middle East, North America, Latin America, and Africa also reported significant growth in annual traffic.

On the domestic front, China’s traffic rose by an impressive 138.8%, surpassing its 2019 level, while Australia and Japan are still trailing behind their pre-pandemic demand.

Walsh also reiterated the industry’s commitment to environmental sustainability, urging governments and fuel suppliers to enhance their efforts in increasing the use of SAF, which remains a crucial element in achieving the net zero CO2 emissions goal by 2050.

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