ICAO forecasts 2% growth in air travel, profits hold at $39B

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has released projections indicating that passenger air traffic in the first quarter of 2024 will surpass pre-pandemic levels by approximately 2 percent, marking a significant milestone in the aviation industry’s recovery. Airlines are anticipated to maintain the operational profitability observed in 2023. Forecasts suggest a 3 percent increase in demand compared to 2019 levels, potentially reaching 4 percent if recovery accelerates in routes yet to fully rebound, translating to a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 0.5 percent from 2019 to 2024.

ICAO forecasts 2% growth in air travel, profits hold at $39B

ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano emphasized the pivotal role of member states’ commitment to aligning pandemic responses with ICAO guidance in facilitating the recovery of air services. He stressed the importance of implementing post-pandemic guidance to ensure the resilience and sustainability of this recovery. Global demand for Freight Tonne-Kilometres (FTK) is forecasted to remain approximately 2 percent below 2019 levels for the entirety of 2024, primarily due to anticipated decreases in demand stemming from global economic weakness.

Juan Carlos Salazar, ICAO Secretary General, highlighted the contribution of governments’ aspirational goals towards decarbonizing air transport by 2050 in supporting environmental sustainability. He underscored ICAO-led initiatives aimed at accelerating the development and adoption of technologies, operational enhancements, and cleaner aviation fuels necessary for decarbonization. Salazar emphasized the need for intensified sustainability efforts, particularly regarding the production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels.

However, these optimistic forecasts are contingent upon international air transport risks remaining at current levels. ICAO’s analysis for 2023 revealed that air traffic on most routes had either reached or surpassed pre-pandemic levels by the year’s end. Notably, 95 percent of 2019’s pre-pandemic passenger air traffic levels were attained globally by the end of 2023, in line with ICAO’s earlier predictions. Key regional routes, including Intra-Europe, Europe to/from North America, the Middle East, South West Asia, and Africa, as well as North America to/from Latin America and the Caribbean, South West Asia, South East Asia, and the Pacific, experienced traffic levels exceeding those of 2019 by the end of 2023.

Conversely, many international Asian routes, excluding those serving South West Asia, continued to exhibit significantly reduced traffic in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Despite challenges such as soaring fuel prices and economic uncertainties, airlines reported total operating profits of USD 39 billion in 2023, aligning with 2019 levels. Increased passenger yields and productivity enhancements were cited as primary drivers of profitability, with airlines in North America and Europe capturing the majority of industry