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  • U.S. traffic recovery topping the optimistic range of our 2021 forecast, led by healthy leisure recovery.
  • Strong business and international travel sentiment suggests strong pent-up demand leading into the second half of 2021.
  • Our 2021 forecast now suggests the year ending at 90% of 2019 numbers, with potential to exceed pre-pandemic numbers.

Welcome to the recovery.

A full sixteen months since air traffic nearly came to a complete halt as the pandemic took its toll on the global economy, the United States has recovered 75% of its passengers. During any other period in aviation’s history, achieving three-quarters the number of passengers from two years prior would be a disaster. Yet, a sense of optimism prevails as the world’s largest economy returns to  75% of its air traffic after sixteen long months, following a collapse that saw it losing over 96% in a mere two weeks.

Related: The airlines are forked. Business and leisure flying split can heal

Huge volumes of price-conscious domestic leisure passengers are being offset by the renewed certainty that people want to fly – a familiar assumption under deep scrutiny just a few months ago.

The correct term for the current state of the industry is recovery, and not recovered, yet the trend is undeniably positive. Without signs of similar strength in international markets to speak of, disappointment in persistent travel restrictions can be offset by the impressive return of domestic traffic.. Depressed business and international travel provide both a dark cloud and a silver lining over the recovery. While slow to return, the opportunity to bridge the remaining 25% with the higher-yielding business and international traffic may afford for a rich imminent upside.

Read: Airlines survived 2020, but as flyers return their dollars won’t

This latest TAC Analysis explores the U.S. travel recovery through the first half of the year and looks to what may be in store as international and business travelers begin to return to the sky in the second half of 2021.

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Courtney Miller is Managing Director of Analysis for The Air Current. Miller most recently spent 10-years with Bombardier Aerospace, serving as director, North America sales for the company’s commercial aircraft line and led airline marketing and analysis for the western hemisphere for airlines in North and South America and the community of global aircraft lessors. Miller is also founder of visualapproach.io, where he merged industry history and analysis with insightful and beautiful data visualization to illustrate contemporary trends. Miller is a 3,000-hour U.S. airline pilot and began his career flying for U.S. regional airline Comair. He holds a Masters of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle University and a Bachelors of Science in Aviation Technology from Purdue University. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Metroplex.

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