Strong international traffic propels continuing travel recovery; Apr-2022 data cause for optimism

10 June, 2022

Latest air traffic data from airline body International Air Transport Association (IATA) illustrates that air travel resumed its strong recovery trend in Apr-2002, despite the war in Ukraine and travel restrictions in China. This is being driven primarily by international demand as the he 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 year-ago period, 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

The IATA monthly metrics shows international RPKs rose +331.9% versus Apr-2021, 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 severely restrict travel. 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 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.

Europe sees strongest growth in international travel in Apr-2022

IATA’s Apr-2022 metrics show European carriers’ international traffic rose +480.0% versus Apr-2021, 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 see highest load factor across the globe

Latin American airlines experienced 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 East, North America and Africa see improving monthly performance in Apr-2022

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 year-ago period, and load factor climbed 32.2 percentage points to 71.7%.

North American carriers’ 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%.