MIAMI – Air traffic forecasts predict its recovery will arrive between the middle of 2021 and the beginning of 2024, a large span of time, and an example of how difficult the task is when giving some accurate prediction on the matter.

Some very optimistic sources predict the beginning of the recovery as early as in a few months. More conservative opinions go as far as 2024. Who has the right answer?

The matter has so many different components that estimating the right moment when recovery would set on is apparently out of reach. This depends on external factors – the majority – as well as internal ones.

Photo: Ferrovial Airports

External/Internal Factors to Factor in

The external factors include how the current world health crisis evolves, how states react (thinking of a single simultaneous action is not realistic), and how politics develops.

The internal factors are those dependent on the financial health of each airline, at least for those that will have survived the crisis, the capability for each to resume services rapidly, the immediate availability of an airline’s fleet, its personnel, and services in general.

To remain in a technical and competitive environment such as that of the commercial aviation industry, the best data are those put forward both by IATA (International Air Transport Association), which regroups the majority of world airlines, and Eurocontrol, which manages the entire European skies.

Both have issued forecasts, IATA on a global basis, Eurocontrol on Europe air traffic. Their opinion coincides on conclusions and it is less optimistic than opinions expressed by single airlines.

Photo: IATA

Comments from IATA CEO

IATA’s still President at the time, Alexandre de Juniac commented in a February 3, 2021 press release that there was optimism that the arrival and initial distribution of vaccines would “lead to a prompt and orderly restoration in global air travel have been dashed in the face of new outbreaks and new mutations of the disease.”

“The world is more locked down today than at virtually any point in the past 12 months and passengers face a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally uncoordinated travel restrictions. We urge governments to work with industry to develop the standards for vaccination, testing, and validation that will enable governments to have confidence that borders can reopen and international air travel can resume once the virus threat has been neutralized,” said de Juniac.

IATA launched its Travel Pass to help this process, by “providing passengers with an App to easily and securely manage their travel in line with any government requirements for COVID-19 testing or vaccine information. In the meantime, said the IATA CEO, the airline industry “will require continued financial support from governments in order to remain viable.”


IATA Forecast

IATA forecast for 2021 – press release of July 2020 – stands at 50.6% of 2019 levels while a full recovery will come about only in 2024. Short-haul traffic shall improve faster than long-haul while a severe downside risk remains if travel restrictions are not eased.

Worst predictions would also be influenced by a slow virus containment in the US and developing countries, reduced corporate travel, and weak consumer confidence. A global traffic recovery cannot be expected before 2024 according to IATA, and that is a year later than expected.

Image : Eurocontrol Press Release

Eurocontrol Forecast

Eurocontrol also has a similar view in regard to a European traffic recovery for the period 2021-2024, expressed in the number of flights. The info-graphics shown above speak by themselves and require no comment, only that both IATA and Eurocontrol opinions converge: full recovery is foreseen only for 2024 if the best scenario applies.

To conclude, let’s keep alive the possibility that experts may be wrong and that those optimistic forecasters may have a clearer vision of the future of an industry that, at present, is still in deep distress.

Featured image: Fliers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport wearing facemasks on March 6th, 2020 as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads throughout the United States. Photo: ATL