Airline capacity growth of 47% forecast by end of 2022

A projected 47% growth in global airline capacity could see a return to 2015 levels by the end of next year.

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

Flights were still 38% down between January and October compared to the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.

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

The recovery is forecast by global aviation analytics firm Cirium in an annual airline insights review.

Regions with strong domestic markets showed accelerated recovery this year, particularly in the US and China. 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 saw a slow recovery with many restrictions in place until the final quarter of 2021, and some restrictions still in place.

International flights saw a 6% growth in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.

Projections by the firm show that the global passenger fleet in service will increase to 20,700 aircraft 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% rise in business travel year-over-year.

As more flights return to the skies, 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 a priority with many carriers looking at fuel burn and how to reach net zero 2050 targets. 

Cirium chief executive Jeremy Bowen said: “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.”

He added: “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.” 

The anticipated 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”.

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