International air travel recovery gets a summer boost

International air travel recovery gets a summer boost

Global traffic is now at 69% of pre-crisis levels

Recovery in air travel accelerated as passengers headed into the busy summer travel season, according to air traffic data for May 2022 released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Total traffic – both domestic and international – in May 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was up 83% compared to May 2021, largely driven by the rise in international air travel. 

Commenting on the findings, IATA director general Willie Walsh said: “The travel recovery continues to gather momentum. People need to travel. And when governments remove Covid-19 restrictions, they do. Many major international route areas – including within Europe, the Middle East and North America – routes are already exceeding pre-Covid19 levels. 

"Completely removing all Covid-19 restrictions is the way forward, with Australia being the latest to do so this week. The major exception to the optimism of this rebound in travel is China, which saw a dramatic 73.2% fall in domestic travel compared to the previous year. Its continuing zero-Covid policy is out-of-step with the rest of the world and it shows in the dramatically slower recovery of China-related travel.”

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Breaking down the numbers, domestic traffic for May 2022 was up 0.2% compared to the same period last year, though significant improvements in many markets were masked by a 73% year-on-year decline in the Chinese domestic market due to Covid-19 related restrictions. 

International traffic in May 2022 rose 326%  compared to May 2021. The easing of travel restrictions in most parts of Asia is accelerating the recovery of international travel with May 2022 international RPKs reaching 64% of May 2019 levels.

Looking at airline performance by region, Middle Eastern airline traffic rose 317% in May 2022 compared to May 2021 led by the re-opening of Asian markets. May capacity rose 116% when compared to the same period last year and load factor climbed 37% to 77%.

For European carriers, May 2022 traffic rose 412% versus May 2021 with the impact of the war in Ukraine limited to areas directly involved.

North American carriers experienced a 203% traffic rise in May 2022 versus the 2021 period. With most restrictions removed for travellers from this region, tourism and a high willingness to travel continue to foster the international recovery as several other routes are now outperforming 2019 results.


Addressing the chaos seen at airports this summer, Walsh said: "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."

Walsh added: "In the longer term, governments must improve their understanding of how aviation operates and work more closely with airports and airlines. 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, their actions did little to enable a smooth ramping-up of activity. 

"It is unacceptable that the industry is now facing a potential punitive regulatory deluge as several governments fill their post-Covid-19 regulatory calendars. Aviation operates best when governments and industry work together to agree and implement global standards. That axiom is as true post-Covid-19 as it was in the century before."

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