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December demand for Middle East carriers climbed 16.6% compared to the same month in 2022. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Global air travel demand has neared complete recovery post-pandemic in 2023, according to the latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). On Thursday, the global aviation body said air travel in December 2023 and total 2023 traffic has edged even closer to matching pre-pandemic demand.

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Total traffic in 2023 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) rose 36.9 per cent compared to 2022. Globally, in the full year 2023, traffic was at 94.1 per cent of 2019 levels.

Moreover, in December 2023, total traffic rose 25.3 per cent compared to December 2022 and reached 97.5 per cent of the December 2019 level. Fourth-quarter traffic was at 98.2 per cent in 2019, reflecting a strong recovery towards the end of the year.

All this signals strong growth patterns in 2024, said Willie Walsh, IATA's Director General.

Walsh explained, "The strong post-pandemic rebound continued in 2023. December traffic stood just 2.5 per cent below 2019 levels, with a strong performance in the fourth quarter, teeing up airlines for a return to normal growth patterns in 2024. The recovery in travel is good news."

He said that the restoration of connectivity is powering the global economy as people travel to do business; further their educations, take hard-earned vacations and much more.

Middle Eastern airlines saw a 33.3 per cent traffic rise in 2023 compared to 2022, among the highest in other regions. Capacity increased by 26 per cent, and the load factor climbed by 4.4 percentage points to 80.1 per cent. December demand climbed 16.6 per cent compared to the same month in 2022.

Strategic approach needed

But to maximize the benefits of air travel in the post-pandemic world, governments need to take a strategic approach, said Walsh.

"That means providing cost-efficient infrastructure to meet demand, incentivizing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production to meet our net zero carbon emission goal by 2050, and adopting regulations that deliver a clear cost-benefit," he stated.


"Completing the recovery must not be an excuse for governments to forget aviation's critical role in increasing the prosperity and well-being of people and businesses the world over," said the Director-General.

In other parts of the world, Asia-Pacific (APAC) airlines posted a 126.1 per cent rise in full-year international 2023 traffic compared to 2022, maintaining the region's most robust year-over-year rate. Capacity rose 101.8 per cent, and the load factor climbed 9.0 percentage points to 83.1 per cent. In December 2023, traffic increased 56.9 percent compared to December 2022.