Arab Airlines routes compete for busiest route in 2023
People's interest in travel has helped airlines recover from the Covid-19 pandemic at an unprecedented speed. In 2023, the aviation industry returned to pre-pandemic levels, with global companies reaching record highs, demand for air travel returning to previous levels, driven by the sector's recovery from the effects of the pandemic and rising profit margins.
In this context, a study conducted by OAG, a leading travel information company, examined the world's busiest airlines for 2023. The study was based on data from January to December 2023, supported by OAG's global flight schedule data.
“Busy routes” are defined as routes with the highest number of seats in scheduled flights in 2023. The data includes flights in both directions on each route.
Despite the recovery in travel this year, the busiest international routes have suffered significant reductions in capacity, ranging from 9 to 43 percent compared to 2019.
But there is one important exception to this trend, from London Heathrow to New York, which surpassed pre-pandemic levels by 1 percent, reaching 3.5 million seats by 2023. This outstanding performance highlights the aviation industry's ability to adapt to challenges, and offers a glimpse of hope that some key routes can recover to even higher levels than before the pandemic.
It is also noteworthy that there were two Arab routes on the list of busiest international air routes, reflecting the importance of the Arab world as a global tourism and business destination and the competitiveness of Arab airlines in global markets.
Busy international flight routes
The list has seen a major overhaul this year with five new routes (Cairo to Jeddah, Seoul Incheon to Osaka Kansai, Seoul Incheon to Tokyo Narita, Dubai to Riyadh, Bangkok to Seoul Incheon) among the top ten routes.
1. Kuala Lumpur to Singapore Changi: This flight tops the list with around 4.9 million seats.
2. Cairo to Jeddah: The flight between the two Arab cities saw a huge improvement in congestion, ranking second with 4.8 million seats, up 2 percent from the first route.
3. Hong Kong to Taipei: This airline ranked third with 4.6 million seats. The route was busiest in 2019, but its capacity has dropped by 43 percent since then.
4. Seoul Incheon to Osaka Kansai: This route ranks fourth with around 4.2 million seats.
5. Seoul Incheon to Tokyo Narita: This flight ranked fifth with around 4.1 million seats.
6. Dubai to Riyadh – Sixth place: The flight between the two major cities in the Arabian Gulf achieved remarkable performance, entering the most congested list for the first time with around 3.99 million seats.
7. Jakarta – Singapore Changi: This airline is ranked seventh with around 3.91 million seats.
8. New York JFK – London Heathrow: The flight between the two cities ranked eighth with about 3.87 million seats.
9. Bangkok – Singapore Changi: This airline will rank ninth in the world with around 3.4 million seats in 2023.
10. Bangkok to Seoul Incheon – 10th: Tourism and trade links between South Korea and Thailand return to the top 10 with around 3.3 million seats.
A buzzing lead and a new goal is advancing
The route from Beijing to Shanghai Hongqiao is China's busiest domestic air route. The route saw capacity growth of 3 percent compared to 2019 and 49 percent compared to 2022, two years when the route was the busiest domestic route in China.
In the United States, the route from Honolulu to Kahului is the busiest domestic route with 3.6 million seats, followed by Atlanta to Orlando with 3.5 million seats. The route was not among the 10 busiest roads in 2019 and ranked third in 2022.
Strong earnings in 2024
After two years of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, travel habits seem to be returning to normal. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects airline industry profits to reach $25.7 billion in 2024, up slightly from $23.3 billion in 2023.
IATA expects operating profit for the aviation industry to reach $49.3 billion in 2024, up from $40.7 billion in 2023. And it expects total revenue to grow 7.6 percent year-on-year to reach $964 billion by 2024.
It also expects total spending in the aviation industry to grow by 6.9 percent to reach $914 billion by 2024. About 4.7 billion people are expected to travel by 2024, surpassing the pre-pandemic level of 4.5 billion recorded in 2019.
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