While international air travel still suffers major load factor reductions due to COVID, domestic travel in the United States and other countries globally continues to grow towards pre-pandemic levels. Data from the Transportation Security Administration indicates that the rolling average load factor for air travel in the US has exceeded 60% of 2019 levels, up from only 15% of original 2019 load factor levels in 2020. With many aerial mobility companies lauding 2023 and 2024 entry into service dates, will the reduced quantity of air travel negatively affect initial operations?
Most generally, no. Since initial operations of aerial mobility aircraft will be more limited than full scale networks, initial flights between city points or urban areas to area airports will be few in number regardless of total domestic demand. Additionally, since the demand for private and general aviation has skyrocketed as travelers increasingly favor modes of air travel with less direct contact with other travelers, a hybridized model for future passengers is most likely.
In addition, recent IATA trends also show that international travel is increasing, and a large proportion of air travel models indicate recoveries (in full or to their new peak load factor levels) within three years. Urban mobility companies like BLADE have resumed continuous flights between Manhattan and area airports, which were discontinued during the deepest portion of the travel rut of 2020. In many ways, the reduction in air travel demand over the past year has also allowed many manufacturers the chance to focus more heavily on their technology and flight testing campaigns, driving more value into their ultimate products.
Why it’s important: While demand for air travel is not yet fully restored to pre-pandemic levels, examination of past trends toward recovery from past events such as oil embargos shows some loose predictions for the future of aerial mobility load factor demand. The target entry to service date for most eVTOL aircraft of 2023 to 2024, at the earliest, should support and match the majority of increased traffic demand predictions from current levels. And, since the demand for general aviation and private air travel during COVID was one of the largest areas for the industry’s growth, aerial mobility’s alignment with similar market sectors is well poised for the future.