Impacts from the conflict in Ukraine on air travel demand were quite limited overall while Omicron-related effects continued to be confined largely to Asian domestic markets.
- Total traffic in March 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was up 76.0% compared with March 2021. Although that was lower than the 115.9% rise in February year-over-year demand, volumes in March were the closest to 2019 pre-pandemic levels, at 41% below.
- March 2022 domestic traffic was up 11.7% compared with the year-ago period, far below the 59.4% year-over-year improvement recorded in February. This largely was a result of the Omicron-related lockdowns in China. March domestic RPKs were down 23.2% versus March 2019.
- International RPKs rose 285.3% versus March 2021, exceeding the 259.2% gain experienced in February versus the year-earlier period. Most regions boosted their performance compared with the prior month, led by carriers in Europe. March 2022 international RPKs were down 51.9% compared with the same month in 2019.
“With barriers to travel coming down in most places, we are seeing the long-expected surge in pent-up demand finally being realized. Unfortunately, we are also seeing long delays at many airports with insufficient resources to handle the growing numbers. This must be addressed urgently to avoid frustrating consumer enthusiasm for air travel,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
Some government actions are also emerging as key impediments to recovery. This is demonstrated most dramatically in the Netherlands.
“Schiphol airport is being allowed by the regulator to repay itself on the back of airlines and consumers for COVID-19 losses with a 37% hike in airport charges over the next three years. Simultaneously, the airport has asked airlines to cancel bookings and new sales this week, at huge inconvenience to passengers, claiming shortfalls in airport staffing, including government-provided security functions. And the government itself is planning to increase passenger taxes by €400 million annually with the stated purpose of discouraging travel.
“Seeing the Dutch government work to dismantle connectivity, fail to provide critical airport operational resources, and enable price gouging by its hub airport is a destructive triple whammy. These actions will cost jobs. They will hurt consumers who are already struggling with price inflation. And they will deplete resources that airlines need to achieve their Net Zero sustainability commitment. The Dutch government has forgotten a key lesson from the COVID-19 crisis, which is that everyone’s quality of life suffers without efficient air connectivity. It must reverse course, and others must not follow their terrible example. To secure the recovery and its economic and social benefits, the immediate priority is for governments to have plans in place to meet expected demand this summer. Many people have waited two years for a summer holiday. It should not be ruined through lack of preparation,” said Walsh.