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Airline Passenger Capacity is Projected to Grow at 47% in 2022

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Global aviation analytics firm Cirium, has released its second annual Airline Insights Review, which reveals an industry in recovery and poised for a projected 47% growth in capacity (the number of seats flown) in 2022. This steep increase indicates capacity could return to 2015 levels by the end of next year.

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Airlines are poised for a projected 47% growth in capacity (by seats flown) in 2022, as revealed in Cirium's new Airline Insights Review. (Graphic: Business Wire)

Last year, the pandemic and its consequences wiped out 15 years of global passenger capacity growth—based on the total number of seats flown—in a matter of months, reducing 2020 capacity flown to levels last seen in 2005.

Although recovery was varied in 2021, global capacity is forecasted to return to capacity levels seen in 2006 by the end of the year.

Regions with strong domestic markets showed accelerated recovery this year—in particular, in the US and China. In fact, Chinese domestic flights are up 6% compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Of all the flights tracked January to October 31 worldwide, 78% were domestic flights. International flights experienced a slow recovery with many restrictions in place until Q4 of 2021, and some restrictions still in place, depending on the routes. Indeed, international flights saw a 6% growth in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.

“The past year has had its challenges as we continued to face fluctuating cases of COVID-19, new variants—most recently Omicron—and varied vaccination programs per country. There is light at the end of the tunnel as we see international travel corridors reopening. However, we will continue to track this momentum as new variants arise and we hope the invaluable analyses in our Airline Insights Report help to navigate what’s to come,” said Jeremy Bowen, CEO of Cirium.

Cirium predicts a year of acceleration in 2022

“Cirium’s experts have analysed 2021 data and formulated forecasts for 2022 and beyond. Near the end of 2022, global capacity will return to 2015 levels, as we see a steep increase in more seats returning to the skies.

“In Cirium’s Airline Insights Report, we have included Seven Things to Look for in 2022 to enable the industry to gain insight into these forecasts and use them to anticipate market developments and make well-informed decisions,” Bowen added.

As more passengers steadily return to the skies, this will mean worldwide domestic traffic (measured in passenger numbers) is predicted to be back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022. International passenger traffic is likely to reach two-thirds of 2019 levels.

Cirium projections show that the global passenger fleet in service will increase to 20,700 by the end of 2022—only a few hundred less than at the end of 2019—pre-pandemic.

The slow recovery of business travel seen so far will change in 2022, with predictions from the industry that there will be a 36% surge in business travel year-over-year. According to Cirium data, business events being tracked online are already increasing for next year.

Conversions of passenger jets to freighters will continue to increase and in 2022, with a potential total of 160 passenger jets converted to freighters—surpassing previous conversion figures.

Aircraft values and lease rates took an unprecedented hit in the past 12 months, however Cirium suggests that they’ve reached the bottom as the values and lease rates for many aircraft types have stabilized and a few are improving. Some aircraft types remain on watch next year, including the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787.

Cirium anticipates that airlines will increasingly rely on partnerships to carry passengers into partner home markets in 2022. This will mean a shift in airlines flying secondary markets post-pandemic and instead see them taking advantage of their airline partners to fly passengers to secondary cities.

As more flights return to the skies, it’s no surprise that CO2 emissions will increase next year—the CO2 emissions from flights in 2021 were 40% less than pre-pandemic. However, airlines are returning more fuel-efficient fleets to service and sustainability has become front and center in aviation, with many looking at fuel burn and how to reach net zero 2050 targets.

“Cirium anticipates the return to normalcy will usher in more focus on sustainable travel practices, including younger, more fuel-efficient aircraft, and the ability to more closely measure the impact of airline travel on global greenhouse gas emissions,” said Bowen.

To read the full Cirium Airline Insights Review 2021, including the seven predictions of 2022 – click here.

The 2021 Airline Insights Report is Cirium’s collection of expert analyses covering a wide range of topics surrounding airlines at the core and the aviation industry that encircles them. The report covers:

  • Top routes flown and airports in 2021
  • The current state of the global passenger traffic, capacity and fleet
  • Sustainability initiatives in the airline industry
  • Airline startups and new routes flown in 2021
  • Average airfares in key markets
  • Spotlights on APAC and Latin America

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Contact information

For media enquiries:
Rachel Humphries, Cirium at media@cirium.com
Mike Arnot, Julliett Alpha at cirium@juliettalpha.com
Paul Charles/Michael Johnson/Callum McGoldrick, PC Agency at cirium@pc.agency

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