IATA: International demand fuels May traffic rebound

A further easing of entry restrictions in many countries saw a spike in international travel in May with air traffic on some international routes exceeding pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). China, however, remains a notable exception to the strong global recovery trend. 

Total revenue passenger kilometres in May were up 83.1 per cent compared to May 2021, largely driven by the strong recovery in international demand. May traffic also points to an increase in recovery momentum following April (78.7 per cent year on year growth) and March (76 per cent year on year growth).

Global traffic in May reached 68.7 per cent of 2019 levels, marking the best performance against pre-Covid travel so far this year. 

The travel rebound continues despite inflation, high jet fuel prices and low consumer confidence. International bookings briefly exceeded domestic bookings in May, confirming that a high willingness to travel abroad persists, according to IATA.

“People need to travel. And when governments remove Covid-19 restrictions, they do. Many major international route areas – including within Europe, and the Middle East-North America routes – are already exceeding pre-Covid levels,” said IATA director general, Willie Walsh.

For European carriers, May traffic rose 412.3 per cent year on year, with little impact from the war in Ukraine, however Walsh pointed to “strains in the system” amid the peak summer season.

“Airlines, airports and governments are working together, however, standing up the workforce needed to meet growing demand will take time and require patience in the few locations where the bottlenecks are the most severe,” he said.

Carriers in North America and Latin America saw May traffic increases of 203.4 per cent and 180.5 per cent, respectively. Some routes, including those from Central America to Europe and to North America, were outperforming 2019 levels.

International traffic in May rose 325.8 per cent year on year, spurred by the easing of travel restrictions in most parts of Asia, except China, where a zero-Covid policy means borders remain closed.

In noting the demand rebound following the removal of entry restrictions, Walsh criticised the manner in which governments handled Covid-19 policy and urged them to improve their understanding of aviation operations.

“Having created so much uncertainty with knee-jerk Covid-19 policy flip-flops and avoiding most opportunities to work in unison based on global standards, [governments’] actions did little to enable a smooth ramping-up of activity.

“And it is unacceptable that the industry is now facing a potential punitive regulatory deluge as several governments fill their post-Covid-19 regulatory calendars,” he said.

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