Air travel won't return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, industry group says

The International Air Transport Association pushed its forecasted rebound for global air travel back by one year Tuesday due to slow virus containment in the U.S. and developing countries. 

The IATA pushed the return of pre-pandemic global passenger traffic back to 2024, noting that the important emerging economies and U.S. combined represent around 40 percent of global air travel markets. "Their continued closure, particularly to international travel, is a significant drag on recovery," the group said. 

The forecasted recovery for short haul travel was also pushed back a year, from 2022 to 2023. Global passenger numbers are expected to drop by 55 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the IATA's new numbers. In April, the group forecasted a decrease of 46 percent. 

Other factors contributing to the more pessimistic recovery outlook include constrained corporate travel budgets as companies continue to operate under financial pressure and weak consumer confidence in the face of concerns over job security, unemployment and risks of catching COVID-19.

"Scientific advances in fighting COVID-19 including development of a successful vaccine, could allow a faster recovery," the IATA noted. "However, at present there appears to be more downside risk than upside to the baseline forecast."

The revised timelines for air travel are relevant for hospital executives' domestic and global corporate travel, as well as patient volumes. 

Many of the largest and most prestigious hospitals in the U.S. have grown more reliant in recent years on international patient volumes — referred to as medical tourism — to stabilize their bottom lines. As of 2015, up to 200,000 seriously ill patients traveled to the U.S. for treatment each year. Most of these patients traveled from the Caribbean, Europe and Central America. In addition to international medical tourism, many large U.S. employers have struck agreements with top hospitals, which can involve air travel. 

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