Global air travel will return to pre-pandemic levels earlier than expected, with the Asia Pacific region being the driver of the faster-than-expected revival, according to a revised COVID-19 traffic recovery forecast by ICF.
Pent-up consumer demand and the global economy rebounding quicker than initially predicted will boost air travel, but uneven vaccine distribution, the new wave of lockdowns and the prevailing uncertainty regarding reopening of borders will act as headwinds, the consulting firm said.
With the pandemic impacting airlines and fleets less than initially feared, the forecast looks rosier than it did last year. Global passenger demand in the 2019-2027 period, which was forecast in April 2020 to grow at only 1.1% per year, is now predicted to see a 2.4 % annual growth during the period, the agency said. Passenger demand had grown 5.9 % per year in the 2010-2019 period.
Disparity in vaccination rates and governments’ capacity to stimulate the economy will lead to an uneven recovery in terms of regions and travel segment, the report said. While domestic travel is expected to recover globally in the first half of 2023, international traffic will return to pre-COVID 19 levels until late 2024.
The Asia Pacific and North America will recover the fastest, and reach pre-pandemic levels in 3.7 years, by 2023. China is expected to reach aggregate 2019 passenger levels in 2022, but the rest of the region will not recover until late 2023 because of the slow pace of vaccinations. A rapidly accelerating vaccination program and fiscal stimulus provided by governments will help North America recover by 2023, with the U.S. being the driver of change.
Europe and Latin America are expected to recover slower but steadily and will reach pre-COVID-19 levels in 4.3 years and 4.7 years respectively. Recovery to pre-COVID levels in Africa will take 5.9 years , mostly because of low vaccination rates and lack of government resources.
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