Passenger traffic continues to rise
Total traffic in March 2022 (measured in revenue passenger-kilometres or RPK) increased 76.0% compared to March 2021
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced passenger data for March 2022 showing that the recovery in air travel continues. The impacts of the conflict in Ukraine on air travel demand were generally quite limited, while the effects related to Omicron remained largely confined to Asian domestic markets.
Note: We have reverted to year-over-year traffic comparisons, rather than comparisons to the 2019 period, unless otherwise noted. Due to the low traffic base in 2021, some markets will show very high year-over-year growth rates, even if the size of these markets remains significantly smaller than in 2019.
Total traffic in March 2022 (measured in revenue passenger-kilometres, or RPKs) increased 76.0% compared to March 2021. Although lower than February's 115.9% increase in year-on-year demand, volumes March were the closest to those of 2019 before -pandemic levels, at 41% below.
March 2022 domestic traffic increased by 11.7% compared to the same period a year earlier, well below the 60.7% year-over-year improvement recorded in February. This was largely the result of Omicron-related lockdowns in China. March domestic RPKs fell 23.2% compared to March 2019.
International RPKs increased 285.3% vs. March 2021, surpassing the 259.2% increase experienced in February vs. the same period a year earlier. Most regions improved their performance compared to the previous month, led by operators in Europe. International RPKs for March 2022 fell 51.9% compared to the same month in 2019.
“With barriers to travel falling in most places, we are seeing the expected surge in pent-up demand finally materialize. Unfortunately, we are also seeing long delays at many airports with insufficient resources to handle the growing number. This needs to be addressed urgently to avoid dampening consumer enthusiasm for air travel,” said Willie Walsh, IATA Director General.
International Passenger Markets
European airlines continued to lead the recovery, with March traffic increasing 425.4% compared to March 2021, an improvement over the 384.6% increase in February 2022 compared to same month of 2021. The impact of the war in Ukraine has been relatively limited outside of traffic to/from Russia and countries neighboring the conflict. Capacity increased 224.5% and load factor rose 27.8 percentage points to 72.7%.
Asia-Pacific airlines saw a 197.1% increase in March traffic compared to March 2021, up from a 146.5% increase in February 2022 compared to February 2021. While China While the US and Japan remain restrictive for foreign visitors, other countries are relaxing, including the South. Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand. Capacity increased 70.7% and load factor rose 24.1 percentage points to 56.6%, the lowest among regions.
Middle East airline traffic increased by 245.8% in March compared to March 2021, an improvement compared to the 218.2% increase in February 2022, compared to the same month in 2021. March capacity increased 96.6% compared to the prior year period and load factor increased 31.1 percentage points to 72.1%.
North American carriers experienced a 227.8% traffic increase in March compared to the 2021 period, slightly down from the 237.3% increase in February 2022 compared to February 2021. Capacity increased by 91, 9% and load factor rose 31.2 percentage points to 75.4%.
Latin American airline traffic in March increased by 239.9% compared to the same month in 2021, unchanged from the 241.9% increase in February 2022 compared to February 2021. The region benefited from the end of the bankruptcy proceedings of some of the major airlines based there. March capacity increased 173.2% and load factor increased 15.8 percentage points to 80.3%, which was the highest load factor among regions for the 18th consecutive month.
African airlines saw a 91.8% increase in RPKs for March compared to the previous year, an improvement compared to the 70.8% year-on-year increase recorded in February 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. The demand for air travel is challenged by low vaccination rates on the continent, as well as the impacts of rising inflation. March 2022 capacity increased 49.9% and load factor rose 14.1 percentage points to 64.5%.
China's domestic traffic decreased by 59.1% in March, compared to March 2021, which was a big change from the 32.8% year-on-year growth recorded in February. This was due to the drastic lockdowns and travel restrictions that followed the spread of Omicron in the country.
India's domestic RPKs rose 32.3% year-on-year in March, strongly reversing February's 2.4% drop compared to a year earlier.
2022 vs. 2019
March's strong growth in most markers compared to a year ago is helping passenger demand reach 2019 levels. Total RPKs in March fell 41.3% compared to March of 2019, an improvement compared to the 45.5% drop recorded in February compared to the same month of 2019. The domestic recovery continues to outperform that of international markets despite the setback in China.
The Bottom Line
“The ongoing recovery of air travel is excellent news for the global economy, for the friends and family whose forced separations are ending, and for the millions of people who depend on air travel for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, some government actions are emerging as key impediments to recovery. This is most dramatically demonstrated in the Netherlands.
The regulator is allowing Schiphol airport to pay for itself at the expense of airlines and consumers for losses from COVID-19 with a 37% increase in airport charges over the next three years. Simultaneously, the airport has asked airlines to cancel bookings and new sales this week, posing a major inconvenience to passengers, citing airport staffing shortages, including government-provided security features. And the government itself is planning to increase passenger taxes by €400 million a year with the stated aim of discouraging travel.
Seeing the Dutch government work to dismantle connectivity, fail to provide critical airport operating resources, and allow price gouging by its hub airport is a destructive triple-whammy. These actions will cost jobs. They will hurt consumers already struggling with price inflation. And they will deplete the resources airlines need to achieve their Net Zero sustainability commitment. The Dutch government has forgotten a key lesson from the COVID-19 crisis, which is that everyone's quality of life suffers without efficient air connectivity. He must change course, and others must not follow his terrible example. To ensure recovery and its economic and social benefits.