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Post-pandemic air travel surge continues in September

airplane airport travel

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently announced the continuation of a robust post-pandemic surge in passenger traffic throughout September.

The momentum observed in passenger demand during this month contributes to the solid conclusion of the third quarter of 2023.

Total traffic, measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), witnessed a significant increase of 30.1 per cent compared to September 2022, bringing global traffic to 97.3 per cent of pre-COVID levels.

At the same time, domestic travel achieved a noteworthy milestone, experiencing a rise of 28.3 per cent from the same month in 2022 and surpassing September 2019 levels by 5.0 per cent.

What is more, international traffic soared by 31.2 per cent year-on-year, with all markets registering double-digit percentage gains. International RPKs reached an impressive 93.1 per cent of the levels seen in September 2019.

Expressing satisfaction with the third quarter of 2023, Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, remarked, “The third quarter of 2023 ended on a high note, with record domestic passenger demand in September and the sustained strength of international traffic.”

In the dynamic landscape of international passenger markets, Asia-Pacific airlines continued to lead the way with a remarkable 92.6 per cent surge in September 2023 traffic compared to the same period in 2022. This sustained dominance in annual improvement was complemented by a substantial 82.1 per cent increase in capacity.

Shifting focus to Europe, European carriers witnessed a noteworthy upswing in September traffic, posting a 15.7 per cent increase compared to September 2022. In tandem, capacity showed robust growth at 14.9 per cent, and the load factor inched up by 0.6 percentage points to achieve a commendable 85.5 per cent.

In the Middle East, airlines saw a substantial 26.6 per cent rise in September traffic compared to the previous year. This growth was mirrored by a 23.7 per cent increase in capacity, and the load factor climbed by 1.9 percentage points to settle at a respectable 81.8 per cent.

Turning to North American carriers, they reported an 18.9 per cent increase in September 2023 traffic compared to the corresponding period in 2022. With a simultaneous 18.0 per cent rise in capacity, the load factor improved by 0.6 percentage points, reaching a robust 85.6 per cent.

Latin American airlines also demonstrated a robust performance, showcasing a 26.8 per cent increase in September traffic compared to the same month in 2022. Correspondingly, September capacity witnessed a commendable climb of 24.7 per cent, and the load factor rose by 1.4 percentage points, reaching an impressive 85.8 per cent.

To wrap up the discussion on international markets, African airlines posted a commendable 28.1 per cent increase in September 2023 traffic compared to the previous year. While capacity showed an increase of 29.9 per cent, the load factor experienced a modest decrease of 1.0 percentage points, settling at a noteworthy 72.6 per cent.

In the context of China’s domestic aviation sector, there was a continued performance, marked by a significant year-over-year increase in demand of 168.7 per cent. However, it’s crucial to emphasize that this growth is evaluated from a lower base in September 2022 when certain Chinese provinces reintroduced domestic travel restrictions.

Shifting focus to Japan, the domestic aviation market demonstrated a considerable rebound. Bouncing back strongly from the disruptions caused by typhoons in August, domestic traffic in Japan witnessed a substantial 19.9 per cent rise in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) compared to September 2022. This recovery underscores the sector’s resilience in recovering from adverse weather conditions in the preceding month.

“As the end of 2023 approaches, we reflect on a year marked by a strong recovery in demand, with passengers fully embracing their freedom to travel,” said Walsh. “There is every reason to believe that this momentum can be maintained in the New Year, despite economic and political uncertainties in parts of the world. However, we need the whole value chain to be ready.”

Walsh expressed concern over lingering supply chain issues in the aircraft manufacturing sector, deeming them unacceptable as they impede the recovery. “Supply chain issues have held back the recovery, and solutions must be found,” he said.

The same imperative for readiness extends to infrastructure providers, particularly air navigation service providers. Walsh pointed out that equipment failures, staffing shortages, and labour unrest have made it impossible to deliver the flying experience customers expect.

In stressing the importance of preparation, Walsh concluded by saying that a “successful 2024 needs the whole value chain to be fully prepared to handle the demand that is coming”.

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