Air travel demand in March grew strongly, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Total passenger traffic increased 52.4 per cent year over year, and global traffic levels reached 88 per cent of March 2019 levels, more than 3 percentage points higher than the 84.9 per cent reported in February.
Global capacity in March increased 41.2 per cent versus March 2022, and reached nearly 90 per cent of March 2019 levels. Load factor was up 5.9 percentage points year over year to 80.7 per cent, which is 1.4 percentage points down from pre-pandemic levels.
Globally, Asia-Pacific showed the largest increases in demand and capacity year over year, gaining 158.9 per cent and 109 per cent, respectively.
North American demand increased 16.9 per cent, with capacity up 15.9 per cent. Europe had a 37 per cent increase in demand and a 25.9 per cent growth in capacity.
"The calendar year first quarter ended on a strong note for air travel demand," IATA director general Willie Walsh said in a statement.
"Domestic markets have been near their pre-pandemic levels for month. And for international travel, two key waypoints were topped. First, demand increased by 3.5 percentage points compared to the previous month's growth to reach 81 per cent of pre-Covid levels.
"This was led by a near tripling of demand for Asia-Pacific carriers as China's re-opening took hold. And efficiency is improving as international load factors reached 81.3 per cent. Even more importantly, ticket sales for both domestic and international travel give every indication that strong growth will continue into the peak northern hemisphere summer travel season," he said.
March international demand increased 68.9 per cent year over year, with capacity up 48 per cent. Load factor increased by 10.1 percentage points to 81.3 per cent.
Asia-Pacific's international demand shot up by 283.1 per cent year over year, continuing the robust momentum since the lifting of travel restrictions in the region, according to IATA. Load factor climbed 26.8 percentage points to 84.5 per cent, second regionally only to North America.
North American international traffic increased 51.6 per cent versus March 2022 with capacity up 34 per cent. Load factor gained 9.8 percentage points to 84.8 per cent. European carriers posted a 38.5 per cent increase in international traffic, with capacity up 27 per cent. Load factor gained 6.6 percentage points to 79.4 per cent, the second lowest among the regions.
March domestic demand rose 34.1 per cent year over year, with capacity up 32.8 per cent. Load factor rose slightly by 0.8 percentage points to 79.8 per cent.
With the reopening of the country, China showed the highest growth in both demand (195.2 per cent) and capacity (153 per cent), however it remained tied with Japan for the lowest demand recovery to March 2019 levels at 95.2 per cent.
Only India showed a demand increase above March 2019 levels with a 10 per cent gain. Brazil was pretty much recovered at 99.8 per cent for demand with an 8 per cent gain. United States demand was 98.9 per cent recovered.
"As traveller expectations build towards the peak northern hemisphere summer travel season, airlines are doing their best to meet the desire and need to fly," Walsh said.
"Unfortunately, a lack of capacity means that some of those travellers may be disappointed. Part of this capacity shortfall is attributable to the widely reported labour shortages impacting many parts of the aviation value chain, as well as supply-chain issues affecting the aircraft manufacturing sector that is resulting in aircraft delivery delays.
"However, a significant share of recent flight cancellations, primarily in Europe, are owing to job actions by air traffic controllers and others. These irresponsible actions resulted in thousands of unnecessary cancellations in March. This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated by the authorities," he added.