Airlines see stable profits, record traveller numbers in 2024

By Joanna Plucinska

GENEVA (Reuters) – Airline profits are set to stabilise in 2024 as continued growth in post-pandemic travel is offset by the high cost of capital and capacity constraints, industry group IATA said on Wednesday.

The global airline sector has largely recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw planes grounded and travellers reluctant to fly, as demand has boomed across North America, the Middle East and Europe.

The airline sector returned to profitability in 2023, with net profit expected at $23.3 billion on a 2.6% margin, and is set to reach $25.7 billion and a margin of 2.7% next year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

But while revenues are tipped to reach a record $964 billion, the high cost of capital driven by rising interest rates is troubling, the global body said.

“Industry profits must be put into proper perspective,” IATA’s head Willie Walsh said.

“On average airlines will retain just $5.45 for every passenger carried. That’s about enough to buy a basic grande latte at a London Starbucks.”

Still, the number of travellers globally is set to climb to historic levels, with 4.7 billion people expected to travel in 2024 compared with 4.5 billion in 2019.

And many countries that lagged in the travel recovery, such as China where international travel is still 40% below pre-pandemic levels, are set to turn a profit again in 2024.

Global instability, including the Israel-Hamas war and the Ukraine war, could negatively impact the sector, the industry body warned, especially as they continue to drive up oil prices.

Jet fuel prices are expected to account for 31% of all airline operating costs.

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Mark Potter)