Global air travel has exceeded equivalent 2019 levels for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to tracking data, amid cautious optimism that the easing of international travel to and from China will help spur further jet demand recovery over the coming year.
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Commercial flights -- a proxy for jet fuel demand -- rose to average 92,672 in the week to Jan. 8, 4.3% higher than the same week in 2019, according to data from flight tracker RadarBox.
The data showed significant growth in flights in the US and Europe while China's recent easing of air travel restrictions has yet to trigger a major uptick in either domestic or foreign flights.
On Dec. 26, China removed the quarantine requirement for international travelers after dropping most internal lockdowns and mandatory testing earlier in the month, finally ending its most stringent COVID restrictions.
From Jan. 8, international travelers will only need a negative result from a PCR test taken 48 hours pre-flight to enter the country.
Also from Jan. 8, China will start issuing passports for travel abroad, according to the country's immigration authorities.
S&P Global Commodity Insights estimates average kerosene/jet demand in China at around 533,000 b/d, down from year-ago levels of 679,000 b/d and well below pre-pandemic levels of 1 million b/d late in 2019 before the COVID-19 outbreak.
The easing of international travel to and from China is unlikely to have a big impact in Q1 flights from the country given the limitations of logistics capacity restarting, aviation data company OAG said last week.
While OAG said that in 2023 there were "tough challenges to be faced, at least in the first half of the year", global airline capacity rose 31% year on year in 2022, according to OAG.
OAG also predicted a full recovery in global air travel was unlikely before 2025.
Indeed, global air travel in the first week of 2023 remained 8.3% below pre-lockdown levels in early 2022, the RadarBox data showed.
S&P Global does not expect global jet and kerosene demand to fully return to 2019 levels of around 8 million b/d until 2029.
Platts assessed CIF Northwest Europe jet fuel cargoes at a premium of $73.50/mt to front-month ICE low sulfur gasoil futures on Jan. 6, according to S&P Global data.