The latest Airline Business Index shows the global airline industry’s revenue soared even further above 2019 levels in the first quarter of 2023, as the sector moved to within touching distance of its pre-Covid size.

The revenue score of 109 (2019 = 100) marked a rise of three points from the previous quarter – and was achieved despite passenger numbers being 10 points below pre-Covid levels at 90, as carriers benefited from strong yields.

Workforce size (94) and fleet (98) were both closer to parity with 2019, having recorded small increases over the three months.

Notably, amid a ‘normalisation’ of the air travel sector following the pandemic, there is no longer a strong mismatch between the business fundamentals – workforce and fleet size – and the performance-focused metrics of revenue and passenger numbers.

At the index’s lowest points in the Covid-19 crisis, workforce and fleet bottomed out at 81 and 95 respectively, compared with a revenue low point of 20 and a lowest passenger-number score of 10 – the latter two seen in the second quarter of 2020.

The overall score of 98 represents a rise of three points from the 31 December 2022 score of 95 and six from the 30 September 2022 score of 92. The latest score is an increase of 44 from the first index, which covered the second quarter of 2020.

Using data from 14 of the largest airline groups that release quarterly or half-yearly results – covering the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe – the index considers four metrics: size of workforce by employee number, size of fleet, and revenue and passenger numbers at the end of the most recent reporting period – in this case, the first quarter of 2023.

It compares those figures with equivalent pre-crisis data from 2019.

Notes: Data from reporting for the three-month period to 31 March 2023 (or nearest half-year period), taken from publicly available records. Workforce and fleet sizes compared with end-2019 levels. Revenue and passenger number metrics compared with data from the equivalent period in 2019. Basket of 14 airlines based on the largest carriers/groups that report quarterly or half-yearly results from FlightGlobal’s World Airline Rankings based on revenues. Overall index score is an average of the scores for the four individual metrics.