Fitch Ratings this week revised upward its forward-looking U.S. air traffic assumptions due to the strong rebound in domestic air travel driven by increased U.S. vaccinations and a surge in US leisure air traffic since March 2020.
The ratings agency added that travel volumes are expected to see additional growth in the second half of 2021 and beyond as business and international travel climbs from pandemic lows.
Though noting that risks remain for the industry surrounding the pace of the aviation recovery, the potential impact of virus variants, and lagging business and international travel, Fitch Ratings said risks even to airports with a negative outlook have considerably diminished. Among the reasons for that airport optimism are improving traffic, effective management oversight of budgets and three rounds of federal aid.
“In contrast, most U.S. airlines continue to have negative outlooks, reflecting the relatively greater impact that the pandemic had on airline balance sheets compared with airports,” the ratings service added. “Additional ratings stabilization for the airlines will depend on their ability to sustainably return to positive cash flow and address pandemic-related debt balances.”
Fitch Ratings forecasts that domestic traffic will remain about 10 percent below 2019 levels through the rest of the year, before trending toward baseline levels in 2022 as lagging business travel is balanced by a nearly full recovery in domestic and near-international leisure traffic.
“Full recovery in international traffic generally is expected to take longer due to patchwork travel restrictions and varying vaccination rates,” the ratings service added, forecasting that international traffic will remain approximately 50 percent lower than 2019 levels for the second half of the current year.