The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently released passenger data for May 2022, showing accelerated recovery in air travel and is heading into the busy Northern Hemisphere summer travel season.

Note: IATA has returned to year-on-year traffic comparisons, instead of comparisons with the 2019 period, unless otherwise noted. Owing to the low traffic base in 2021, some markets will show very high year-on-year growth rates, even if the size of these markets is still significantly smaller than they were in 2019.

Total traffic in May 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPK) was up 83.1% compared to May 2021, largely driven by the strong recovery in international traffic. Global traffic is now at 68.7% of pre-crisis levels.
Domestic traffic for May 2022 was up 0.2% compared to the year-ago period. Significant improvements in many markets were masked by a 73.2% year-on-year decline in the Chinese domestic market due to COVID-19-related restrictions. May 2022 domestic traffic was 76.7% of May 2019.

International traffic rose 325.8% versus May 2021. The easing of travel restrictions in most parts of Asia is accelerating the recovery of international travel. May 2022 international RPK reached 64.1% of May 2019 levels.

According to IATA Director General Willie Walsh, the travel recovery continues to gather momentum. He said that 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-19 levels. Completely removing all COVID-19 restrictions is the way forward, with Australia being the latest to do so this week.

Walsh also said that 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.

2022 vs 2019

The strong results in most international and domestic markets compared to a year ago are helping passenger demand catch up to 2019 levels. Total RPK in May 2022 reached 68.7% of May 2019 levels, which was the best performance against pre-COVID-19 travel so far this year.

The Bottom Line

The recovery in travel markets is no less than impressive, says Walsh.

As we accelerate towards the peak summer season in the Northern Hemisphere, strains in the system are appearing in some European and North American hubs. Nobody wants to see passengers suffering from delays or cancellations.

But Walsh said that passengers can be confident that solutions are being urgently implemented. He said that 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.

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.

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. Aviation has delivered its best when governments and industries work together to agree on and implement global standards. That axiom is as true post-COVID-19 as it was in the century before.” said Walsh.

View the full May 2022 Air Passenger Market Analysis here.

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