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Global airline passenger capacity ends 2021 35% below pre-pandemic level: OAG


2021 passenger capacity rises after dropping 44% below 2019 level in 2020

Outlook bright for Q2 2022

  • Author
  • Clarice Chiam    Amy Tan    Su Yeen Cheong
  • Editor
  • Ankit Ajmera
  • Commodity
  • Oil
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  • United States

Global airline passenger capacity rose 9% year on year in 2021 but was still 35% below the pre-pandemic level in 2019, with passenger volume lowest since 2009-2010, flight and data analytics firm OAG said in its latest report.

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OAG said global passenger capacity was at 5.7 billion seats in 2021, with the second half of the year seeing a stronger recovery than the first half, as global domestic capacity reached 80% of 2019 level led by markets, such as China, the US and Russia.

More travelers from countries, such as the US and China, took to the skies amid higher COVID-19 vaccination rates, with seasonal holiday travel boosting flight bookings, S&P Global Platts reported earlier. The domestic capacity in the US and China hovered just 3.3%-11% below 2019 levels in 2021 for some weeks.

OAG said that the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant had slowed the global recovery, but second quarter 2022 outlook could be brighter led by capacity increases in countries, such as India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

Emerging markets eye full recovery in 2022

India's airlines passenger capacity grew 11% week on week in the first week of 2022, with 400,000 seats added on a weekly basis, bringing the country's total capacity to nearly 90% of pre-pandemic level, OAG said.

"Indian capacity will never reach the volumes operated in either China or the United States, but now occupies a comfortable third position sufficiently distanced from fourth-place Japan," the report said.

OAG data showed that week-on-week scheduled capacity growth in top twenty countries was the highest in Indonesia at 14% in the week started Jan. 3, followed by Brazil and Saudi Arabia at 8% and 4.9%, respectively. On a pre-pandemic basis, Mexico and Columbia were operating at higher capacities of 5.4% and 4.3%, respectively, during the week, with Russia just 1.1% below the pre-pandemic level.

The second quarter of 2022 probably looks quite positive for airlines that are brave enough to look beyond omicron, OAG said. "Strong pent-up demand has already resulted in carriers adding back aircraft, such as the A380, and reopening long haul routes in many markets suggest things are getting better," the firm said. "But we do just need to get past the first quarter of 2022."

Jet fuel firms on supply crunch

The February-March jet fuel/kerosene derivative spread was assessed at a two-month high of plus 73 cents/b at the 0830 GMT Asian close Jan. 12, more than doubling from plus 31 cents/b, or 135.48%, since the start of the month.

The spread was last higher at plus 78 cents/b Nov. 10, 2021, Platts data showed.

The Q1-Q2 2022 jet fuel/kerosene swap spread -- an indication of near-term sentiment -- was assessed at plus $1.47/b at the Asian close Jan. 12, up $1/b since the start of the month.

The firm sentiment was also reflected in the physical market. The FOB Singapore jet fuel/kerosene cash differential jumped 17 cents/b on the day to a more than three-week high of plus 70 cents/b to Mean of Platts Singapore jet fuel/kerosene assessment at the Asian close Jan. 12.

The assessed cash differential was last higher at MOPS plus 83 cents/b, Dec. 20, 2021, Platts data showed.