- Domestic passenger demand recovery stalls due to continuing strict travel restrictions in China.
- International RPKs more than four times higher than last year.
- Fall in global air cargo demand in line with expectations.
- While most regions of the world saw cargo demand and capacity fall, Latin America has excelled itself.
Passenger travel recovery driven by rising international demand
This is being driven primarily by international demand – the lifting of many border restrictions provides a long-expected surge in bookings as people seek to make up for two years of lost travel opportunities.
Total demand for air travel in Apr-2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was up +78.7% compared to Apr-2021, and slightly ahead of Mar-2022’s +76.0% year-over-year increase. This was still down -37.2% compared to the same month in 2019, but is an improvement compared to the -41.3% decline for Mar-2022 versus Mar-2019.
Domestic demand recovery stalls due continuing strict travel restrictions in China
Domestic air travel was down -1.0% in Apr-2022 compared to the period a year ago (Apr-2021), which was a reversal from the +10.6% demand rise in Mar-2022.
This, reports IATA, was “driven entirely” by continuing strict travel restrictions in China, where domestic traffic was down -80.8% year-to-year.
Overall, Apr-2022 domestic traffic was down -25.8% versus Apr-2019.
International RPKs more than four times higher than last year 2021
The IATA monthly metrics shows international RPKs rose +331.9% versus Apr-2021, which was an acceleration over the +289.9% rise in Mar-2022 compared to a year ago. The data shows that several route areas are actually above pre-pandemic levels, including Europe-Central America, Middle East-North America and North America-Central America.
Still, Apr-2022 international RPKs were down -43.4% compared to the same month in 2019.
April data ‘cause for optimism’ in almost all markets, except China
The Apr-2022 data is “cause for optimism in almost all markets”, acknowledges IATA director general Willie Walsh, except in China, which continues to restrict travel severely.
Mr Walsh believes China should learn from the experiences of the rest of the world, which is “demonstrating that increased travel is manageable with high levels of population immunity and the normal systems for disease surveillance”.
Two years of border restrictions have not weakened the desire for the freedom to travel
With the northern summer travel season now upon us, the recovery of air travel shows that two years of border restrictions “have not weakened the desire for the freedom to travel”, says Mr Walsh. Where it is permitted, demand is rapidly returning to pre-COVID levels, and in some cases exceeding the performance of 2019.
However, the IATA boss notes that it is also evident “that the failings in how governments managed the pandemic have continued into the recovery”.
Continued travel uncertainty means air travel recovery now influenced by operational problems
These are now impacting the industry through operational and performance issues.
“With governments making U-turns and policy changes there was uncertainty until the last minute, leaving little time to restart an industry that was largely dormant for two years”, explains Mr Walsh. This, he explains, means it is no wonder that we are seeing operational delays in some locations.
“In those few locations where these problems are recurring, solutions need to be found so passengers can travel with confidence”, he adds.
Strongest growth in international passenger travel in Europe, but Latin America has highest loads
The regional breakdown in Apr-2022 passenger performance is as follows:
Europe has strongest growth in international travel in Apr-2022
IATA’s Apr-2022 metrics show European airlines’ international traffic rose +480.0% versus Apr-2021, which was substantially up over the +434.3% increase in Mar-2022 versus the same month in 2021.
Capacity rose +233.5% and load factor climbed 33.7 percentage points, to 79.4%.
Asia-Pacific leads the rest of the world in Apr-2022 international travel recovery performance
Asia-Pacific airlines saw their Apr-2022 international traffic climb +290.8% compared to Apr-2021, significantly improved on the +197.2% gain registered in Mar-2022 versus Mar-2021.
Capacity rose +88.6% and the load factor was up 34.6 percentage points, to 66.8%, but was still the lowest among regions.
Latin America continues to experience highest load factor across the globe
Latin American airlines reported a +263.2% rise in Apr-2022 traffic compared to the same month in 2021, exceeding the +241.2% rise in Mar-2022 over Mar-2021.
The Apr-2022 capacity rose +189.1% and load factor increased 16.8 percentage points, to 82.3%, which easily was the highest load factor among the regions for the 19th consecutive month.
Middle Eastern airlines had a +265.0% international demand rise in Apr-2022 compared to April-2021, bettering the 252.7% increase in March 2022 versus the same month in 2021.
April capacity rose +101.0% versus the period a year ago (Apr-2021), and load factor climbed 32.2 percentage points, to 71.7%.
North American airlines’ Apr-2022 international traffic rose +230.2% versus the 2021 period, slightly above the +227.9% rise in Mar-2022 compared to Mar-2021.
Capacity rose +98.5% and load factor climbed 31.6 percentage points, to 79.3%.
African airlines’ international traffic rose +116.2% in April 2022 versus a year ago, an acceleration over the 93.3% year-over-year increase recorded in Mar-2022.
The Apr-2022 capacity was up +65.7% and load factor climbed 15.7 percentage points, to 67.3%.
Fall in global air cargo demand in line with expectations
IATA reports decreases in global air cargo demand and capacity in Apr-2022, driven by "a challenging operating backdrop" – again caused specifically by the effects of the COVID-19 Omicron variant in Asia and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Global demand in Cargo Tonne Kilometres (CTKs) decreased by -11.2% year-on-year in Apr-2022. International CTKs decreased by -10.6%.
Compared to Apr-2019, demand decreased by -1%.
In other words, cargo demand is decreasing at a greater rate compared to last year, when the coronavirus pandemic held a vice-like grip, than compared to the good times benchmark year of 2019.
Capacity also decreased by -2% year-on-year.
Asia recorded the largest regional drops in capacity.
The regional breakdown in Apr-2022 cargo performance is as follows:
Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease by -15.8% in Apr-2022 compared to the same month in 2021.
This was the weakest performance of all regions, and significantly slower than the previous month (-5.1%).
Airlines in the region have been heavily impacted by lower trade and manufacturing activity due to Omicron-related lockdowns in China. Because of this, available capacity in the region fell -19.4% compared to Apr-2021, which was the largest drop of all regions.
North American airlines posted a -6.6% decrease in cargo volumes in Apr-2022 compared to Apr-2021.
Demand in the Asia-North America market declined significantly; however, other key routes such as Europe-North America remain strong.
Capacity was up +5.2% compared to Apr-2021. Several airlines in the region are set to receive delivery of freighters in 2022, which should help address pent-up demand on routes where it is needed.
Europe – ‘within-Europe’ market particularly impacted by Ukraine war
European airlines experienced a -14.4% decrease in cargo volumes in Apr-2022 compared to the same month in 2021.
The Within-Europe market fell significantly – down -24.6% month-on-month.
This is attributable to the war in Ukraine. Labour shortages and lower manufacturing activity in Asia due to Omicron also affected volumes.
Capacity fell -0.2% in Apr-2022 compared to Apr-2021.
Middle East – supply chain issues contribute to volumes but capacity increased
Middle Eastern airlines experienced an -11.9% year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in Apr-2022.
Significant benefits from traffic being redirected to avoid flying over Russia failed to materialise. This is likely due to persisting supply chain issues in Asia.
Capacity was up +6% compared to Apr-2021.
Latin America – the strongest performer; huge increase in flown volume and capacity
Latin American airlines reported an increase of +40.9% in cargo volumes in Apr-2022 compared to the 2021 period.
This was the strongest performance of all regions.
Airlines in this region have shown optimism by introducing new services and capacity, and in some cases investing in additional aircraft for air cargo in the coming months.
Capacity in Apr-2022 was up +67.8% compared to the same month in 2021.
Africa – previous month’s growth trend reversed
African airlines saw cargo volumes decrease by -6.3% in Apr-2022 compared to Apr-2021. This was significantly slower than the growth recorded the previous month (+3.1%).
Capacity was -1.5% below Apr-2021 levels.
So while these results vary considerably by region, it is only Latin America that can take any satisfaction from them.
If this data continues to show a decline in the following months then concern will grow about how passenger bookings for the Oct-2021 to Mar-2022 period, and the full year beyond that, might follow suit.
NB. The full reports from IATA are accessible through the CAPA IATA Profile, News section