The aviation sector is showing some promising signs of recovery, following two years of Covid-19 restrictions that severely impacted on the global industry.
This year is expected to be a year of steady rebound and renewed activity, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) says.
The company highlights figures published by the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which show that 2020 was the worst year on record for the aviation industry.
In 2020, 1.8-billion passengers flew, a decrease of 60.2% compared with the 4.5-billion who flew in 2019.
Industry-wide air travel demand dropped by 65.9% year-on-year, with international passenger demand having decreased by 75.6% compared with the year before and domestic air passenger demand having decreased by 48.8%.
However, ACSA now reports that its network recorded a 48% recovery in passenger throughput when compared with the similar period in the year leading to Covid-19 crisis, for the financial year ending March.
It notes that this comes as air traffic in the 2021/22 financial year was impacted by the third and fourth waves of new infections, which were proliferated by the Delta and Omicron variants, respectively.
“ACSA is encouraged by the passenger movement numbers across all of its airports, as they are showing steady growth and recovery for both domestic and international travel,” says ACSA CEO Mpumi Mpofu.
Mpofu notes that the domestic segment recorded 56% passenger throughput of the pre-Covid-19 level, while regional and international segments continued to lag for the year ended March 31.
“But I must emphasise that different factors affect the recovery rates of the various segments and, thus, these rates of rebound cannot be directly compared,” says Mpofu.
This is in line with global air travel recovery trends identified by the Airports Council International (ACI), with domestic traffic continuing to drive recovery, while international passenger traffic volume lagged significantly behind domestic traffic recovery in 2021.
The ACI estimated that global international passenger traffic volumes for this year would only reach 27.8% of the 2019 level.
Mpofu points out that ACSA’s regional airports, on the coast and inland, are recovering faster because of their small or soft base, with traffic primarily attributed to travel into these airports being largely domestic and for the purpose of leisure, visiting friends and family or relatives (VFR) traffic.
“On the other hand, the meeting, incentive travel, conferences and exhibitions and business market segments have been heavily impacted due to reduced travel budgets and the rapid development of virtual meeting and conferencing platforms.
“These segments, including government, accounted for over 50% of the traffic at the three international gateway airports in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape,” says Mpofu.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
The OR Tambo International Airport’s (ORTIA’s) pre-Covid-19 (2019/20) international and domestic travel included 1.8-million combined passenger movements for both arrivals and departures.
For the year 2021/22, the airport is noted to have continued on its recovery path and has had a combined 1.3-million passenger movement for both arrivals and departures.
ORTIA continues to handle the highest number of passenger movements among all ACSA airports.
A considerable amount of its traffic, almost 50%, is cross-border travel within the region and global markets, which were severely disrupted by global travel bans.
The rebound in cross-border traffic has accelerated ORTIA’s recovery to just under 64% in March, the highest monthly recovery rate since the start of the pandemic.
“It must be emphasised that ORTIA’s recovery has lagged due to its air travel demand being largely influenced by corporate or business traffic, which is the most severely affected market segment, and its extensive route network covering all habitant continents pre-Covid-19,” says Mpofu.
King Shaka International Airport, in KwaZulu-Natal, has seen a resurgence in domestic travel, with a combined 539 257 domestic passenger movements for 2022/23 thus far.
Pre-Covid-19, Cape Town International Airport (CTIA), for both domestic and international travel, had a combined 928 350 passenger movements.
CTIA had recorded a combined passenger movement of 698 701 for both domestic and international travel in 2021/22.
Meanwhile, George Airport’s passenger movement numbers have grown since pre-Covid-19 from 33 217 to 35 753 for domestic arrivals.
The rest of the regional airports are catching up quickly to pre-Covid-19 figures and ACSA says it is confident of a full recovery in the next year.
“Regional airports have contributed significantly to ACSA’s recovery, with the George and Bram Fischer airports experiencing passenger throughput of over 96% and 84%, respectively, in March 2022.
“The regional airports market is largely driven by a mix of domestic leisure and VFR traffic and a bit of business, which continues to lead the air travel recovery,” Mpofu notes.