Global passenger demand in May 2024 increased by 10.7 per cent compared to the same month in 2023, according to the latest data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The overall demand, quantified in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), rose significantly alongside a parallel 8.5 per cent increase in available seat kilometres (ASK), the metric used to measure total capacity. Consequently, the load factor—an indicator of how efficiently airlines fill seats—reached a record high of 83.4 per cent for May, marking an increase of 1.7 percentage points from the previous year.

Internationally, the demand saw an even more impressive rise of 14.6 per cent year-on-year. With a corresponding 14.1 per cent increase in capacity, the international load factor edged up to 82.8 per cent, demonstrating a modest gain of 0.3 percentage points compared to May 2023. This uptick is part of a larger trend reflecting a strong rebound in international travel.

On the domestic front, demand grew by 4.7 per cent, though capacity saw a minimal increase of just 0.1 per cent year-on-year. Despite this modest increase in capacity, the domestic load factor improved significantly, rising by 3.8 percentage points to 84.5 per cent.

Regionally, each area demonstrated distinct patterns of recovery and growth.

Asia-Pacific airlines led the surge with a 27.0 per cent year-on-year increase in demand, bolstered by a 26.0 per cent rise in capacity and a load factor improvement to 81.6 per cent. This region remains a significant driver of the industry’s growth, accounting for 42 per cent of the global increase.

European carriers also saw a healthy increase in demand at 11.7 per cent with a corresponding capacity increase of 11.3 per cent. The load factor here was 84.7 per cent, a slight increase of 0.3 percentage points.

Conversely, North American airlines experienced an 8.1 per cent rise in demand but faced a slight decrease in load factor by 1.2 percentage points, bringing it to 84.0 per cent.

Middle Eastern airlines saw a 9.7 per cent year-on-year increase in demand. Capacity increased 9.0 per cent year-on-year and the load factor increased 0.5 percentage points to 80.7 per cent compared to May 2023.

Asian routes to the Middle East are particularly strong, now standing some 32 per cent higher than in 2019.

Another notable development is the Europe-Middle East route, which saw an April-May RPK increase for two years in a row, reversing the previous historic pattern of a decline between these months. In the coming months, it will become clearer to what extent these trends could be related to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Latin American airlines outperformed other regions in terms of load factor improvement, with a 15.9 per cent rise in demand and an 85.1 per cent load factor, up by 1.2 percentage points.

Meanwhile, African airlines, despite having the lowest overall load factor, showed the fastest increase in this metric, with demand rising by 14.1 per cent and load factor reaching 72.3 per cent, up by 3.7 percentage points.

Willie Walsh expressed strong optimism about the travel demand, stating that “strong travel demand continues with airlines posting a 10.7 per cent year-on-year increase in travel for May”.

“Airlines filled 83.4 per cent of their seats, a record for the month,” Walsh said, noting that “with May ticket sales for early peak-season travel up nearly 6 per cent, the growth trend shows no signs of abating”.

Walsh added that “airlines are doing everything they can to ensure smooth journeys for all travellers over the peak northern summer period”.

He then highlighted operational challenges, emphasising that IATA’s expectations of air navigation service providers (ANSPs) are already being tested.

“With 5.2 million minutes of air traffic control delays racked up in Europe even before the peak season begins, it is clear that Europe’s ANSPs have unresolved challenges,” Walsh said.

“The 32,000 flight delays over the Memorial Day weekend in May show that challenges persist in the US too. Airlines are accountable to their customers; ANSPs must be as well,” he added.

“ANSP’s performance matters to its airline customers and millions of travellers. We all need them to do their job efficiently,” Walsh concluded.