Airports industry body ACI World expects a “surge” in travel demand during the second half of 2021, but forecasts that global passenger numbers will still be down some 47.5% on pre-Covid predictions for the full year.

An expected 4.7 billion drop in traveller numbers in 2021 compared with pre-Covid estimates – to 5.2 billion – would lead to a loss in airport revenues of more than $94 billion by the end of 2021, ACI World said as it released a new Covid-19 impact assessment on 25 March.

That revenue outlook “cuts in half” pre-coronavirus expectations that airport income would reach $188 billion in 2021.

Amid that bleak picture, however, the airports body expresses optimism that there will be an “upsurge in confidence in air travel provided by vaccination and safety measures”, which should lead to a recovery in international travel starting “this spring” and increasing “significantly” by mid-year.

“Hopefully the darkest days are now behind us in terms of overall passenger declines,” says Patrick Lucas, ACI World’s director of economics during a briefing as the impact assessment was released.

Indeed, speaking during the same briefing, ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira cites “positive indications in countries with high rates of vaccination”, adding that the industry body “has discerned an escalation of these encouraging signs and prospects for recovery with a surge in travel in the second half of 2021 expected”.

Nevertheless, “Covid-19 remains an existential crisis for airports, airlines and their commercial partners and we need support and sensible policy decisions from governments to ensure that aviation can fuel the global economic recovery”, says de Oliveria.

“Aviation’s recovery will not take-off… without a coordinated and globally-consistent approach to vaccination and testing, coupled with a safe and interoperable methods of sharing testing and vaccination information,” he adds.

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport

Source: Gurkan Ergun/

Explaining the fundamentals driving its forecast, ACI World notes that countries with large domestic air travel markets are likely to recovery from the pandemic most speedily, reaching pre-Covid levels of passenger traffic in 2023. For markets that rely on international traffic, recovery to 2019 levels is not expected until 2024-25.

Europe falls into the latter category and is therefore forecast to “remain the most affected region in absolute terms” with airport revenues expected to be down $37.5 billion in 2021 compared with pre-Covid forecasts.

In relative terms, the Middle East and Europe are the worst affected regions this year, with airport revenue decreases of 58.9% and 58.1% respectively forecast for 2021 versus pre-Covid expectations. Asia-Pacific fares better – thanks, in part, to the large domestic market in China – but is still expected to experience an airport revenue decrease of 40.3% against the projected baseline.

North American airports are expected to end the year with revenues down 43.5% compared with pre-Covid forecasts for 2021.

Looking further ahead, “the long-term fundamentals of the industry still apply”, says Lucas, citing the fact that 80% of the world’s population still resides in the emerging markets and developing economies that are expected to drive air travel growth in the coming decades.