It will come as no surprise that one of the main industries affected by the Covid19 pandemic has been air travel. Lockdowns, the closing of borders and severe restrictions on accessible destinations have led to a significant drop in international travel. Estimates from McKinsey earlier this year suggested that global travel industry revenues for 2020 were down at a level last seen two decades ago.

With the pandemic not receding as quickly as anticipated and the rise of the Delta variant and lower than expected vaccination rates in some countries and communities, attention is now focused on when things will return to pre-pandemic levels and when airports can expect to experience a return to the passenger numbers they saw before Covid19.

Different reports and predictions tell different stories

McKinsey’s report suggests a full recovery for the sector won’t happen until 2024, while there is a more positive prediction from a new poll run over the last month by Airports International and Hitachi. The poll agrees that passenger numbers will remain lower than usual for the near term. Expectations for a quick rebound are low. Over half of all respondents (57%) expect it to take at least 12 months for passenger numbers to reach pre-pandemic levels, with 87% not expecting a return until the start of 2022 at the earliest.

Over 80% of those who describe themselves as working in transport or travel and tourism and 65% of those in travel and expect it to take at least 12 months for passenger numbers to recover. Whenever passengers do start to return in numbers, there is little consensus on what proportion of pre-pandemic levels of passengers will come back. But if there is little agreement on what to expect in terms of the detail, the overwhelming consensus (92%) is that it will be lower than before the pandemic.

How technology can help

So, what might be done to restore some confidence and what role might technology play? Given the expectation that it will take a while to recover, there may be time to implement innovations to help travellers feel safer, that also improve operations, reduce waste, and enhance passenger experience. When it comes to ways that airports could use new technology to improve, the biggest focus from respondents in the industry (42%) was on digital health and safety solutions, followed by smarter boarding solutions (20%) and passenger flow monitoring analytics (19%).

To see how your expectations compare to your industry peers around air travel traffic regaining pre-pandemic traction, complete our survey on Hitachi’s website here:

Visit Hitachi’s Transportation page to explore digital solutions that enhance passenger safety, efficiency, and experiences.