The aviation industry is currently facing an uneven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there has been a continued uptick overall in the second half of 2022, which is moving the industry closer to its full recovery. According to a recent study by the Airports Council International (ACI) World, the bounce back is still forecasted for 2024.

Strong headwinds

The world is emerging from the worst health crisis of modern times, which led to an unseen downfall in the aviation industry. Airlines and airports have been under financial strain since 2020, and while there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, the sector is currently facing some strong headwinds.

ACI, the association representing 1950 airports in 185 countries, said the global economy faces a new array of challenges, which includes the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, bottlenecks in global supply chains, heavy inflation, and rising fuel prices. Overall, some risks threaten to disrupt the pace of the post-pandemic recovery.

Nonetheless, despite these strong headwinds, the industry is continuing to recover, added ACI. More countries have eased their travel restrictions, opening their markets, including Japan in the Asia-Pacific region. “This, coupled with the propensity for air travel, will drive the industry’s recovery, expected to reach 2019 levels in 2024.”

Passengers in Hong Kong Airport

The recovery of the aviation industry has been uneven. Photo: Getty Images.

The recovery so far

In 2021, there were around 4.6 billion travelers worldwide. This number was a 52.9% loss in passengers compared to the projected baseline of 9.8 billion passengers that there would have been if COVID-19 had not impacted the world.

During the first two quarters of 2022, global passenger volume was 1.3 billion and 1.7 billion, which are 62.0% and 75.2% of 2019 levels. Recovery was mainly driven by the sudden surge of air travel demand during the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2022, following the relaxation of travel restrictions, which resulted in higher-than-expected demand.

Global passenger traffic this year is expected to be 6.8 billion, representing a loss of 33.1% compared to 2019 traffic.

Projected global quarterly passenger losses due to the COVID-19 crisis

Projected global quarterly passenger losses due to the COVID-19 crisis. Photo: ACI.

Strongest recoveries

The Latin America and Caribbean region had the strongest first half of 2022 among regions. According to ACI’s report, these geographic areas had declines of 23.7% and 14.9% for 2022 quarter one and quarter two. Countries such as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico have fully bounced from the COVID-19 crisis and are already exceeding their 2019 passenger levels.

The North American region marked the second-highest recovery worldwide. However, it slowed down compared to the fast-recovering trend in 2021. Its traffic was down 27.1% and 17.3% for the first two quarters.

In contrast, the Asia-Pacific region showed the least improvement in the first half of this year. Countries such as Japan have only recently opened up their borders. For example, Hong Kong has only just ended its controversial COVID-19 hotel quarantine policy for all arrivals.

Passengers in a queue in front of a Delta desk

Latin America and North America have had the best recoveries in 2022. Photo: Getty Images.


Luis Felipe de Oliveira, ACI World Director, said that the recent momentum created by lifting many health measures and the relaxation of most travel restrictions in Europe and the Americas had renewed industry optimism. Nonetheless, there’s still an uneven recovery–a gap exists among markets, especially where strict travel restrictions remain and access to COVID-19 vaccines is limited.

ACI World is projecting that global passenger traffic will reach 2019 levels in late 2023, with the full-year recovery to be in 2024.

What do you think about the aviation industry recovery so far? Let us know in the comments below.


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