Analysis: Air Transport Recovery By Region

Central Americas has regained the most capacity since 2019, while South East Asia’s recovery lags behind.

Credit: Joe Pries

Central America is the fastest-recovering global region since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, restoring 82.2% of its 2019 capacity, research by Routes has found.

The strength of the Mexican market, which has remained open throughout the pandemic and popular with travelers from North America, has boosted the region’s recovery. 

Some 83.2 million departure seats were available in Mexico in 2019, representing 86% of 2019 levels, according to data from OAG. Mexico accounts for 83% of all capacity across Central America.

Conversely, South East Asia has suffered the largest decline, recovering just 35.9% of 2019 levels of capacity. The region’s largest country market Indonesia has recovered relatively well at 55.6%, along with Vietnam’s 55.8%.

However, international travel restrictions in place throughout much of 2021 led to depressed capacity in other major markets such as Thailand (23.1%), Malaysia (18%) and Cambodia (5.4%).

In 2019 the world’s three largest regional markets were North East Asia (1.26bn seats), North America (1.25bn) and Western Europe (1.2bn). Of these, North East Asia has recovered the strongest.

Just over 982 million departure seats were flown in North East Asia, representing 77.7% of 2019’s levels and the third-quickest rebound, led by strong domestic recoveries in China and Russia, which had 94.3% and 93.8% of 2019 capacity levels respectively. 

Japan (49.3%) and South Korea (53%) fared less well, but China accounted for two-thirds of all seats flown in the region in 2019, positively distorting the recovery.

North America saw the fifth-strongest recovery of any global region, hitting 73.7% of 2019 capacity for the year. Again, the picture was mixed with the US recovering 77.1% of seats compared to Canada’s 36.5%, but the relative market sizes (1.15bn 2019 seats in the US vs 106 million in Canada) mean the strong US domestic recovery boosted the region.

At the other end of the spectrum, and despite a rally in the second half of 2021, Western Europe was the third-slowest region to recover globally, with 571.5 million departure seats representing 47.4% of 2019 levels. 

Vacation destinations Greece (73.3%) and Turkey (68.8%) recovered well, but large aviation markets in the UK (33.1%) and Germany (37.3%) continued to suffer lower levels of demand and capacity.

More detailed regional breakdowns will be published on routesonline.com and the Routes Digest in the coming weeks. 

Region

2019 capacity

2020 capacity

2021 capacity

2021 vs 2019

Central America

121,625,287

72,742,787

99,979,613

82.2%

Central/Western Africa

31,708,519

18,321,102

24,976,731

78.8%

North East Asia

1,263,791,488

923,476,776

982,029,386

77.7%

Central Asia

19,501,748

9,758,801

14,695,655

75.4%

North America

1,252,499,284

721,277,449

922,797,907

73.7%

South Asia

254,949,097

153,909,525

183,838,439

72.1%

Eastern/Central Europe

227,395,078

129,527,479

158,658,103

69.8%

Upper South America

88,621,347

37,911,526

60,377,145

68.1%

Eastern Africa

38,657,542

21,161,469

25,549,600

66.1%

Caribbean

48,079,595

26,226,506

31,414,039

65.3%

Lower South America

190,512,654

87,971,177

110,808,564

58.2%

North Africa

56,932,729

26,416,747

33,043,100

58.0%

Middle East

257,741,298

127,350,889

144,351,685

56.0%

Southern Africa

41,140,243

17,376,431

19,642,232

47.7%

Western Europe

1,206,505,502

496,894,793

571,542,619

47.4%

Southwest Pacific

147,064,254

63,422,971

69,290,876

47.1%

South East Asia

523,363,096

284,228,101

187,775,926

35.9%

Data source: OAG Schedules Analyser