Global air traffic may return to pre-Covid levels in June, with China leading the way

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Lufthansa CEO: ‘Huge operational challenges’ in airspace closures

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Global air traffic will boom this year, returning to pre-pandemic levels in June, according to a new report.

On Monday, international aircraft leasing company Avolon said it expected a full recovery in passenger traffic over the coming months, led by the reopening of markets in Asia, especially China.

Andy Cronin, the company’s CEO, said in a statement that China would serve as the main driver, helping push up global activity after “a pandemic-driven two-thirds drop in traffic.”

China scrapped its quarantine requirements last week after three years, prompting businesses around the world to prepare for the return of the world’s largest outbound travel market.

The news has further brightened the outlook for the aviation sector, which already experienced “a 70% recovery in passenger traffic last year led by recovery in Europe and North America,” Avolon noted.

In 2023, airlines are expecting more good news: They’re projected to finally regain their financial footing.

In a forecast released last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted that airlines would turn a profit of $4.7 billion this year, despite fears of a global recession. Avolon shares that expectation, with the same estimate shared in its report Monday.

It would mark the first time the sector has made money since 2019, as fliers return to the skies after years of Covid-19 restrictions reduced demand for flights.

Currently, global air traffic has resumed to approximately 75% of November 2019 levels, IATA said last week.

Asia Pacific airlines stood out in the latest global numbers, enjoying a nearly 374% “rise in November traffic compared to November 2021, which was the strongest year-over-year rate among the regions,” the association added.

IATA’s latest industry forecast, issued in December, is more conservative than Avolon’s, with worldwide passenger demand “expected to reach 85.5% of 2019 levels over the course of 2023.”

But as passengers continue to come back, experts warn the industry is facing another challenge.

“Demand for travel is no longer the constraint to recovery, but airlines’ capacity to put planes in the air,” Avolon said in its statement.

“Delivery delays have become endemic and an aircraft shortage is emerging given the lost production of 2,400 planes that had been planned but were not built due to the pandemic.”

— CNN’s Julia Horowitz and Livvy Doherty contributed to this report.