After a tough two years dealing with the impact of Covid, air transport showed it is on the road to recovery in 2021 with total seat capacity offer up by 39.8% between December 2020 and December 2021 according to data calculated by the Official Aviation Guide (OAG).

Air transport experienced at least some recovery in their activity in 2021, a recovery which mostly occurred during the second half of the year. This is the conclusion of OAG – a private company which has been gathering flight information from airlines since 1929 – which weeks after weeks, has been tracking seats’ capacity worldwide -especially since the start of the Covid pandemic two years ago.

2021 was then marked by a sharp rebound for most airlines. OAG indicates in its latest analysis that global airline capacity ended at 5.7 billion seats. It is still lower by 35% compared to the 8.7 billion seats reported for the whole year 2019. However, it shows a growth of 40% over 2020. 

Return to growth in 2021

Growth of air capacity was stimulated by the strength of domestic activities in many markets. OAG indicated that global domestic capacity was at 80% of 2019 levels thanks to markets such as China, the United States and Russia.

When looking at OAG detailed numbers, seats capacity jumped between December 2020 and December 2021 in most countries, except for China which reduced air capacity. By contrast European countries registered the highest growth rates. Germany seats capacity was up by 203.5% between December 2020 and December 2021; the UK registered a growth of 169.1%, Spain of 156.2% and France of 131.7%.

In the Americas, air capacity in seats was up by 55.2% in the USA, by 39.1% in Mexico and by 38% in Brazil year to year, based on December numbers.

Asia recorded more contrasted figures. While China’s air seats capacity was down by 7.3%, Singapore was up by 119.9% due to the partial lifting of travel restrictions to and from the City State. India recorded the second best performance in the region at +40.2%. The result is due to the strong holding of the domestic market. Australia total seats in December 2021 was up by 29.8% compared to December 2020, Japan up by 10% and South Korea by 2.3%.

For the Middle-East/Africa region, growth in air seats’ capacity reached 98.2% between December 2020 and 2021 and 7.1% in South Africa.

Airports in the Gulf, such as Kuwait, can capitalise again on the growth in global travel demand (Photo : LC)

Optimism prevails due to the short-lived impact of Omicron on air transport

OAG analysis indicates that the USA remains the world’s largest scheduled aviation market followed by China.

When looking at the best performers compared to December 2019, OAG highlights that Mexico already reached the same capacity level than prior to the Covid crisis. While China, India, Spain and the USA are edging close to a 85%/90% capacity recovery compared to 2019.

it is still difficult to assess how the markets would go. OAG points that, so far, the Omicron variant, did not affect strongly air capacities in the first week of 2022. However, the consultant believes that January and February could experience a slowdown as demand soften worldwide.

But OAG forecasts a strong rebound in March. According to first capacity data provided by airlines, March 2022 should see a substantial growth with 406.2 million seats available.

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