Airports Council International (ACI) World has released data that it says shows that an additional five billion passengers could be lost by the end of this year, relative to its pre-Covid-19 forecast.
Compared with 2019 levels, passenger numbers are expected to be down 47.3% by year-end, with domestic passenger traffic recovering faster than international traffic. Globally, domestic traffic will continue the recovery started in 2020 to reach close to 3.3 billion passengers by the end of 2021 (61.4% of 2019 levels).
Linked to traffic reductions, ACI estimates that globally, airports will see a loss of more than US$108bn in revenue by the end of the year, down by more than half of expectations (-54.6%). It is expected that each quarter of 2021 will show improvements compared with the previous one, moving from a decline of 71.4% in the first quarter of 2021 to a decline of 37.2% in the fourth quarter.
Despite the slower than expected first half of 2021, ACI still expects global passenger traffic to recover to 2019 levels by the end of 2023, which will be mainly driven by the recovery of domestic passenger traffic but dampened by a slower recovery of international travel. In the long run, it is predicted that the global traffic may take up to two decades to return to previously projected levels.
“Despite increasing positive signs, Covid-19 remains an existential crisis for airports, airlines and their commercial partners, and aviation still needs support and reasonable policy decisions from governments if an even, sustained recovery is to be realized,” said ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira.
“Air traffic is the lifeblood of the airport business as practically all aeronautical revenues are a direct function of traffic, including passenger-related charges from passengers and aircraft-related charges. As traffic declined, airports’ ability to collect those charges decreased proportionally and, with little flexibility in operating expenditures coupled with capital costs that are largely fixed, the current crisis represents an unprecedented challenge for the airport industry’s financial viability,” he added.
ACI posits that new and improved airport infrastructure will be key to the continued development of air transport beyond the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Sustainable long-term growth for the industry will need increased airport capital investment, reasonable policies for the use of slots, and developments to improve the economic, social and environmental footprint of airports.