The Air Transport Monthly Monitor for February 2022

The numbers that are shared in the article below reflect the numbers in December 2021. The analysis of the economic and aviation indicators we share here reflect the continuing impact of COVID-19 on this industry.

The air transport industry is not only a vital engine of global socio-economic growth, but it is also of vital importance as a catalyst for economic development. Not only does the industry create direct and indirect employment and support tourism and local businesses, but it also stimulates foreign investment and international trade.

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  • make better projections;
  • control costs and risks;
  • improve business valuations; and
  • benchmark performance.

The UN recognized ICAO as the central agency responsible for the collection, analysis, publication, standardization, improvement and dissemination of statistics pertaining to civil aviation. Because of its status as a UN specialized agency, ICAO remains independent from outside influences and is committed to consistently offering comprehensive and objective data. Every month ICAO produces this Air Transport Monitor, a monthly snapshot and analysis of the economic and aviation indicators.


World Results and Analyses for December 2021

Total Scheduled Services (Domestic and International)

Passenger traffic

Revenue Passenger-Kilometres   –   RPK

World passenger traffic fell by -45.1% in December 2021 (compared to 2019), +1.9 percentage points up from the decline in the previous month. Air travel recovery continued in spite of the Omicron disruptions, owing to the strong demand during the holiday season. The ever-changing restrictions and travel policies remained the biggest challenges and had a measurable impact on travel demand throughout the year. For 2021 as a whole, passenger traffic globally improved modestly, reaching only half of the 2019 level.

International Traffic vs. Tourist Arrivals

International passenger numbers fell by -54.1% in December 2021 (compared to 2019), +1.7 percentage points up from the decline in the previous month. International travel recovery started to pick up gradually from summer, but number of international passengers in 2021 was still far below the 2019 level. Recovery in international tourist arrivals followed a similar trend, however, it deteriorated towards the year end amid the Omicron outbreak.


Available Seat-Kilometres   –   ASK

Capacity worldwide fell by -37.6% in December 2021 (compared to 2019), +2.1 percentage points up from the decline in the previous month (-39.7%). Due to reimposed travel bans amid the Omicron outbreak, the January capacity is expected to fall to –38.0% down from the 2019 level.

Load Factor  

The passenger Load Factor reached 72.3% in December 2021, +1.0 percentage point higher than the previous month. Despite the improvement, the December LF was -9.8 percentage points below the 2019 level. Compared to 2020, LF has improved significantly in 2021, however, the overall LF remained below 70%.

Freight Traffic

Freight Tonne-Kilometres  – FTK

World freight traffic reported a growth of +8.9% in December 2021 (compared to 2019), +5.2 percentage points up from the growth in the previous month. After a temporary slowdown in November, air cargo growth rebounded to the trend saw in most of the months of the year. Air cargo has been growing strongly throughout the year, driven by the solid demand of goods as well as the supply chain congestion issues which has caused shifting of volume from surface to air. Overall in 2021, air cargo rose over +6.0%, outperforming the global trade rebound. North America, Africa and the Middle East were the main contributors to the robust growth. However, Latin America/Caribbean remained weak and was the only region with negative growth.

Top 15 Airports (Ranked by aircraft departures, passengers, and volume of freight)

Note: Figures include total scheduled and non-scheduled services

December 2021: –9.4%, -19.2%, and +11.4% (vs. 2019) in terms of aircraft departures, passengers and freight for the Top 15

In terms of aircraft departures, the Top 15 airports reported a combined fall of -12.1%, compared to 2019. All but three of the Top 15 airports were US airports. Despite recording the largest fall of -20.4%, Chicago retained the 1st position. Tokyo re-appeared in the Top 15 for the first time in the past two years. Miami was the only airport posting increases.

In terms of passengers, the Top 15 airports posted a total fall of -20.8%, compared to 2019. US airports continued to dominate the list, with 10 in the Top 15. Atlanta remained 1st with a decline of -19.7%. In line with departures, Miami was the only airport posting positive growth, at +6.6%. Tokyo and Dubai recorded the largest fall of -45.3% and -41.8%, respectively.

In terms of freight, the Top 15 airports reported an increase of +15.3%, compared to 2019. Ten of the Top 15 airports grew double-digitally, with Chicago recording the strongest growth at a robust +62.8%. Hong Kong remained 1st with a solid growth of +9.2%. Shanghai and Dubai continued to post declines for the fourth consecutive month.

Top 15 Airline Groups (Ranked by RPK)

December 2021:  –35.7% (vs. 2019) in terms of RPK for the Top 15

In terms of RPK, the Top 15 airline groups accounted for 62.0% of the world’s total RPK in December 2021 and declined by –35.7% compared to 2019. This decline was 17.7 percentage points smaller than the fall in the world’s average RPK. December rankings were relatively stable with changes mainly among the European airlines. The Top 4 positions were retained by the U.S. airlines, with American at 1st, followed by United, Delta and Southwest. They also demonstrated the most resilience among the Top 15.

As restrictions remain tight to limit the spread of the Omicron variant, domestic passenger traffic in China stagnated, and as a result, only China Southern and China Eastern ranked in the Top 15, at 10th and 15th, respectively. Both airlines recorded the largest contractions compared to 2019.

Despite the Omicron outbreak, air travel in Europe continued, however, performance varied among the European airlines. While IAG ascended to 5th and Lufthansa stayed at 8th, the others fell between 1 to 3 positions.

Emirates climbed 2 positions to 7th owing to the steady improvement in international travel, whereas Qatar remained at 12th. With the gradual traffic pick up of Latin America/Caribbean, LATAM maintained the 14th position for the second consecutive month.

Capacity by Region

December 2021:  -37.6% (vs. 2019) in terms of World ASK

Worldwide capacity contracted by -37.6% in December 2021, compared to 2019, smaller than the -39.7% fall in November. All regions saw improvements, except for Africa, which was impacted by the travel bans amid the Omicron outbreak. Overall for 2022, global capacity recovered to around half of the pre-pandemic levels, with North America restoring the most capacity, ahead of other regions.

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For any queries for further information, please contact the ICAO Economic Development (ECD), Air Transport Bureau [email protected]

Acronyms: ACI: Airports Council International; ASK: Available Seat-Kilometres; IATA: International Air Transport Association; FTK: Freight Tonne-Kilometres; LF: Passenger Load Factor; OAG: Official Airline Guide; RPK: Revenue Passenger-Kilometres; UNWTO: World Tourism Organization; YoY: Year-on-year; YTD: Year-to-date.

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