The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced continued strong growth in air travel demand, whilst its data for global air cargo markets shows air cargo demand rising above pre-pandemic levels.
Image courtesy IATA
Total traffic in February 2023 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) rose 55.5% compared to February 2022. Globally, traffic is now at 84.9% of February 2019 levels.
Domestic traffic for February rose 25.2% compared to the year-ago period. Total February 2023 domestic traffic was at 97.2% of the February 2019 level.
International traffic climbed 89.7% versus February 2022 with all markets recording strong growth, led once again by carriers in the Asia-Pacific region. International RPKs reached 77.5% of February 2019 levels.
Willie Walsh (above), IATA’s Director General said: “Despite the uncertain economic signals, demand for air travel continues to be strong across the globe and particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. The industry is now just about 15% below 2019 levels of demand and that gap is narrowing each month.”
International Passenger Markets
Asia-Pacific airlines had a 378.7% increase in February 2023 traffic compared to February 2022, maintaining the very positive momentum of the past few months since the lifting of travel restrictions in the region. Capacity rose 176.4% and the load factor increased 34.9 percentage points to 82.5%, the second highest among the regions.
European carriers posted a 47.9% traffic rise versus February 2022. Capacity climbed 29.7%, and load factor rose 9.1 percentage points to 73.7%, which was the lowest among the regions.
Middle Eastern airlines saw a 75.0% traffic increase compared to February a year ago. Capacity climbed 40.5% and load factor pushed up 15.8 percentage points to 80.0%.
North American carriers’ traffic climbed 67.4% in February 2023 versus the 2022 period. Capacity increased 39.5%, and load factor rose 12.8 percentage points to 76.6%.
Latin American airlines had a 44.1% traffic increase compared to the same month in 2022. February capacity climbed 34.0% and load factor rose 5.8 percentage points to 82.7%, the highest among the regions.
African airlines’ traffic rose 90.7% in February 2023 versus a year ago. February capacity was up 61.7% and load factor climbed 11.4 percentage points to 75.0%.
Domestic Passenger Markets
Walsh said: “People are flying in ever greater numbers. With the Easter and Passover holidays we are expecting large numbers of travellers to take to the skies in many parts of the world. They should do so with confidence that airlines have been rebuilding resiliency that suffered owing to the pandemic. Other participants in the air travel value chain, including airports, air navigation service providers and airport security staff, need to have the same commitment to ensuring our customers can enjoy smooth holiday travel.”
Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), fell 7.5% compared to February 2022 (-8.3% for international operations). This was half the rate of annual decline seen in the previous two months (-14.9% and -15.3% respectively). February demand for air cargo was 2.9% higher than pre-pandemic levels (February 2019)—the first time it has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in eight months.
Capacity (measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres, ACTK) was up 8.6% compared to February 2022. The strong uptick in ACTKs reflects the addition of belly capacity as the passenger side of the business continues to recover. International belly-capacity grew by 57.0% in February year-over-year, reaching 75.1% of the 2019 (pre-pandemic) capacity.
Several factors in the operating environment should be noted:
The global new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI, a leading indicator of cargo demand, continued to increase in February. China’s PMI level surpassed the critical 50-mark indicating that demand for manufactured goods from the world’s largest export economy is growing.
Global goods trade decreased by 1.5% in January; this was a slower rate of decline than the previous month of -3.3%.
The Consumer Price Index for G7 countries decreased from 6.7% in January to 6.4% in February. Inflation in producer (input) prices reduced by 2.2 percentage points to 9.6% in December (last available data).
Walsh said: ”The story of air cargo in February is one of slowing declines. Year-on-year demand fell by 7.5%. That’s half the rate of decline experienced in January. This shifting of gears was sufficient to boost the overall industry into positive territory (+2.9%) compared to pre-pandemic levels.
"An optimistic eye could see the start of an improvement trend that leads to market stabilisation and a return to more normal demand patterns after dramatic ups-and-downs in recent years.”
February regional cargo performance
Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease by 6.0% in February 2023 compared to the same month in 2022. This was a significant improvement in performance compared to January (-19.0%). Airlines in the region benefitted from China’s reopening, which saw restrictions lifted and economic activities resumed. Available capacity in the region increased by 19.9% compared to February 2022 as more and more belly capacity came online from the passenger side of the business.
North American carriers posted a 3.2% decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023 compared to the same month in 2022. This was a solid improvement in performance compared to January (-8.7%). Notably, the region saw a significant increase in international demand in February which boosted its market share in international cargo traffic to beyond pre-pandemic levels (21.7% in Feb 2023 versus 18.2% in Feb 2019). Capacity increased 2.8% compared to February 2022.
European carriers saw the weakest performance of all regions with a 15.3% decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023 compared to the same month in 2022. This was an improvement in performance compared to January (-20.4%). Airlines in the region continue to be most affected by the war in Ukraine. Capacity decreased 1.5% in February 2023 compared to February 2022.
Middle Eastern carriers experienced an 8.1% year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023. This was a slight improvement to the previous month (-11.8%). Capacity increased 9.3% compared to February 2022.
Latin American carriers reported a 2.7% decrease in cargo volumes in February 2023 compared to February 2022. This was a drop in performance compared to January which saw a 4.6% increase. Capacity in February was up 27.6% compared to the same month in 2022.
African airlines saw cargo volumes decrease by 3.4% in February 2023 compared to February 2022. This was an improvement in performance compared to the previous month (-9.5%). Notably, the Africa to Asia route area experienced significant cargo demand growth in February, up 39.5% year-on-year. Capacity was 4.7% above February 2022 levels.