It is likely to be sometime after 2023 that the nation’s airports get back to pre-pandemic traveler counts, according to analysts from the nation’s three major bond-rating agencies.
But how long after that remains an open question.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority recently detailed for its board of directors a variety of scenarios compiled by Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s, guesstimating how quickly air travel will return in a post-pandemic world.
None of the three has travel back to the record level of 2019 by 2023, although Standard & Poor’s is the most optimistic, estimating it could be within 5 percent of that total. Fitch estimates it would be down about 10 percent from peak 2019 levels in 2023, with Moody’s estimating it might be down 12 percent.
The comparisons were presented to the MWAA board of directors by Frasca & Associates, a financial-advisory firm.
In 2019, a record 1.06 billion passengers traveled through U.S. airports, up 3.9 percent from a year before, according to figures reported by the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The record included 811 million domestic passengers (up 4.3 percent) and 241 million international passengers (up 2.4 percent). A total of 927 million were carried on U.S. airlines, 126 million on international carriers.
Final 2020 data is likely to be available mid-year, and to no one’s surprise will show a significant dropoff from 2019.