People traveling through security at Denver International Airport. (photo via 400tmax/iStock Unreleased)
International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Willie Walsh, emboldened by increasing passenger traffic despite rising fuel prices and war in Ukraine, is now forecasting an earlier recovery for airlines.
Speaking at the group’s annual meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Walsh said the industry could return to full pre-pandemic traffic levels in 2023, a year earlier than his previous prediction of 2024.
Airline traffic in the U.S. for the last two months or so has consistently been running at 90 percent – if not more – of what the capacity was for the same time period in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in January of 2020.
Pent-up demand for travel, the elimination of the federal transportation mask mandate in the U.S., and the loosening of entry requirements and restrictions by countries around the world have added to the optimism.
“We’re seeing very strong bookings,” Walsh said according to Reuters News Service. “Certainly, all the airline CEOs that I’m talking to are seeing not just good demand for year-end travel but they continue to see demand as they looked through the year.”
Walsh seemed non-plussed by the up-and-down price of oil, the volatility on the industry due to the war, as well as a virtual shutdown of a major market in China, where precautions against COVID-19 are still high.
“I don’t think we should be distracted from the fact that we are seeing a strong recovery and I think that recovery will gather momentum as we go through the rest of this year into 2023,” Airlines are expecting huge summer returns on travel this year after all but shutting down in the summer of 2020 and a tepid 2021 summer travel season.