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Cirium: 2022 Air Passenger Capacity to Reach 2015 Levels

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Global airline passenger capacity in 2022 will grow 47 percent year over year, reaching 2015 levels, according to projections in global aviation analytics firm Cirium’s latest Airline Insights Review, released Wednesday. Capacity in 2021 as measured in available seat kilometers is expected to return to 2006 levels, 30 percent down from 2019 levels.

About 78 percent of worldwide flights Cirium tracked between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2021, were domestic. International flights have taken a slower time to recover, with restrictions still in place on certain routes, but capacity still grew 6 percent compared with the same period in 2020. 

Worldwide domestic traffic, measured in passenger numbers, is projected to be back to pre-pandemic numbers by the end of 2022, with international passenger traffic reaching two-thirds of 2019 levels. Cirium predicts that transatlantic travel won’t return to 2019 levels until 2023, and fares are likely to increase, with sustainability initiatives helping to push fares up in the long term. 

“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,” said Cirium CEO Jeremy Bowen in a statement. “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.”

The report also predicts that corporate travel will accelerate in 2022, led by an increase in business events and meetings. The company is tracking online activity around business events, and Cirium’s Diio Signals product showed increased activity on the web around corporate events and conferences. The report offered Barcelona as an example: The city hosted 10 major business events that impacted air travel in January 2019, 23 in January 2020 and only two in January 2021. But it has four on the books for January 2022 so far, “a clear sign that business events are slowly returning.”

Sustainability

Cirium projects CO2 emissions to increase in 2022 as more flights return. CO2 emissions from flights in 2021 were 40 percent less than pre-pandemic levels, according to the report. However, airlines are returning more fuel-efficient fleets to service, with many airline companies looking at fuel burn and how to reach 2050 net-zero 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,” Bowen said.

A large area of demand for emissions data is coming from corporations as they roll out strategies to reduce their emissions, including their Scope 3 emissions from air travel, Cirium sustainable travel product leader Robyn Grassanovits wrote in the report. “Corporate travel managers hold the travel data from previous purchases and manage future travel procurement decisions,” she said. “But measuring emissions from air travel purchases presents special challenges, and most travel managers simply don’t have access to quality flight emission data to confidently address their needs.”

Grassanovits added that Cirium is in a pilot test with some corporations to measure emissions down to the division, department or traveler level.

2021 Business Airports and Routes

The United States had nine of the 10 busiest airports based on arriving flights tracked between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2021. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport topped the list, followed by Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Other U.S. cities on the list, in order, included Denver, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle and Phoenix, which was tenth. China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport was the ninth busiest.

In contrast, most of the top routes were for international markets, with Asian pairs landing seven of the top 10. The top U.S. route was between Los Angeles and San Francisco, coming in at 14th globally, followed by Las Vegas and Los Angeles flights, at 18th.

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