Global airline passenger traffic could surpass 2019 levels before the end of the year, according to new analysis by aviation analytics firm Cirium.

Rob Morris, global head of consultancy at Ascend by Cirium said that March data indicates a return to growth of global traffic in RPK (revenue passenger kilometres) terms to pre-Covid levels could occur as soon as September.

Previous forecasts have suggested that it would take until 2024 for passenger numbers to recover, but Cirium said that traffic was recovering “slightly ahead of earlier forecasts, with growth above pre-pandemic levels expected in October despite Asia-Pacific and China markets lagging other regions”.

Overall passenger traffic for 2023 is expected to be 6 per cent below 2019 levels, with 2024 forecast to see passenger traffic at 8 per cent higher than pre-Covid levels.

Earlier this month the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that global traffic had reached 88 per cent of March 2019 levels, with domestic traffic now near pre-pandemic levels (98.9 per cent).

IATA: global air traffic now at 88 per cent of 2019 levels

“We’re well on track to recover, and then finally we can put our 2019 crutch back in the cupboard, and we can look forward again to growth,” said Morris.

He said that April schedules indicate that Asia intra-regional, transpacific, Europe-Asia, and domestic Indonesia are the only markets where capacity remained more than 15 per cent below the same month in 2019.

The worst performer in terms of international capacity was China, down on average 68 per cent compared to pre-Covid levels, followed by Hong Kong (-50 per cent).

Cirium said that Chinese carriers had been slow to return to international capacity compared to other jurisdictions, with the country only reopening its borders in January.

International Airlines Group (IAG) recently published its latest outlook, stating that it expects group capacity to be around 97 per cent of 2019 levels this year.

IAG expects capacity to be at 97 per cent of 2019 levels this year