Thursday, May 23, 2024
Airlines set to earn 2.7% net profit margin on record revenues in 2024

Airlines set to earn 2.7% net profit margin on record revenues in 2024

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced strengthened profitability projections for airlines in 2023, which will then largely stabilise in 2024. However, net profitability at the global level is expected to be well below the cost of capital in both years. Very significant regional variations in financial performance remain.

“Considering the major losses of recent years, the $25.7 billion net profit expected in 2024 is a tribute to aviation’s resilience. People love to travel and that has helped airlines to come roaring back to pre-pandemic levels of connectivity. The speed of the recovery has been extraordinary; yet it also appears that the pandemic has cost aviation about four years of growth. From 2024 the outlook indicates that we can expect more normal growth patterns for both passenger and cargo,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

“Industry profits must be put into proper perspective. While the recovery is impressive, a net profit margin of 2.7% is far below what investors in almost any other industry would accept. Of course, many airlines are doing better than that average, and many are struggling. But there is something to be learned from the fact that, 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. But it is far too little to build a future that is resilient to shocks for a critical global industry on which 3.5% of GDP depends and from which 3.05 million people directly earn their livelihoods. Airlines will always compete ferociously for their customers, but they remain far too burdened by onerous regulation, fragmentation, high infrastructure costs and a supply chain populated with oligopolies,” said Walsh.

Revenues

Cargo revenues are expected to fall to $111 billion in 2024. That is down sharply from an extraordinary peak of $210 billion in 2021, but it is above 2019 revenues which were $101 billion. Yields will continue to be negatively impacted by the continued growth of belly capacity (related to strong growth on the passenger side of the business) while international trade stagnates. Yields are expected to further correct towards pre-pandemic levels with a – 32.2% decline in 2023 followed by a -20.9% decline expected in 2024. They will remain high by historical standards, however. Note that yield progression has been extraordinary in these last years (-8.2% in 2019, +54.7% in 2020, +25.9% in 2021, +7% in 2022, -32.2% in 2023).

Overall revenues in 2024 are expected to rise faster than expenses (7.6% vs. 6.9%), strengthening profitability. While operating profits are expected to increase by 21.1% ($40.7 billion in 2023 to $49.3 billion in 2024), net profit margins increased at less than half the pace (10%) largely due to increased interest rates expected in 2024.

Regional roundup

The regions have recovered from the pandemic at different speeds. At the regional level, North America, Europe and the Middle East are expected to post net profits in 2023. Asia Pacific will join the group in 2024, but we still expect Latin America and Africa to be in the red in 2024.

North America

North America remains the standout region in terms of financial performance. It was the first market to return to profitability in 2022 and built on this performance in 2023 by delivering efficiencies, particularly in high passenger load factors. Consumer spending has remained solid, despite cost-of- living pressures, and the demand for air travel remains robust and is expected to outpace growth in capacity into 2024.

Europe

Europe is expected to end 2023 with a stronger than expected performance, notwithstanding the various capacity issues and supply side constraints. With strong demand for air travel expected to continue in 2024, net profit is expected to marginally strengthen. The key risks to the region’s performance relate to the tight labor market, and the war in Ukraine and in the Middle East.

Asia Pacific

While some of the region’s main domestic markets (China, Australia and India) recovered quickly from the pandemic, international travel to/from the region was subdued as China only eliminated the last of its international travel restrictions in mid-2023. China’s international travel remains 40% below pre- pandemic levels. The region is expected to post a small loss in 2023, turning to a profit in 2024.

Latin America

While some markets are strong (Mexico for example), others are facing economic and social turmoil that is negatively impacting airline performance. With capacity growth expected to outpace demand growth in 2024, market conditions are expected to remain challenging. Overall, the Latin America region is expected to be in the red for both 2023 and 2024, although with reducing losses.

The Middle East

The Middle East is expected to deliver a strong financial performance in both 2023 and 2024. The Middle East carriers have been swift to rebuild their international networks and restore their super- connector hubs. To that end, capacity is expected to grow faster than demand in 2024; however, with more efficient fleets, net profit margin has a potential to slightly increase.

Africa

African carriers are expected to generate losses in both 2023 and 2024. The continent remains a difficult market in which to operate an airline, with economic, infrastructure, and connectivity challenges impacting the industry performance. Despite these challenges, there is robust demand for air travel. Underpinned by this demand, the industry continues to reduce losses.

2023

Airline profitability for 2023 performed better than expected in IATA’s June outlook. Revenues for 2023 are now expected to reach $896 billion ($93 billion higher than expected). Expenses also grew to $855 billion ($74 billion higher than the previous forecast). That translated into a $23.3 billion industry wide net profit. While that is significantly above the $9.8 billion forecast in June, the additional $13.5 billion profit is equal to just 1.4% of revenue. The net profit margin is just 2.6% meaning that airlines will have earned on average $5.44 per passenger carried in 2023.

The improvement was entirely driven by the passenger business which saw revenues increase compared to the previous forecast by $96 billion, to $642 billion. Cargo revenues in 2023 were $134.7 billion, which underperformed the $142.3 billion expected in June.

Picture of Edward Hardy

Edward Hardy

Having become a journalist after university, Edward Hardy has been a reporter and editor at some of the world's leading publications and news sites. In 2022, he became Air Cargo Week's Editor. Got news to share? Contact me on Edward.Hardy@AirCargoWeek.com

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