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Airlines project record 2024 revenue, but profit margins remain thin


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) raised its profit forecast for the airline industry in 2024 and predicts a record revenue of $996 billion.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The International Air Transport Association raised its profit forecast for the airline industry in 2024 and predicts revenue of $996 billion — a record high and a 9.7% jump on the previous year.

The profitability outlook for the year, released Monday during the IATA Annual General Meeting held in Dubai, put expected net profits at $30.5 billion, up from the prior forecast of $25.7 billion published in December 2023.

“With a record five billion air travelers expected in 2024, the human need to fly has never been stronger. Moreover, the global economy counts on air cargo to deliver the $8.3 trillion of trade that gets to customers by air,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, said in the organization’s press release.  

IATA forecasts about $30 billion in net profit for the aviation industry in 2024

But while revenues and profits are enjoying tailwinds, expenses are also soaring, leaving profit margins thin, the IATA report said.

Total expenses for global airlines are expected to reach $936 billion, according to the industry body’s projections — a 9.4% annual increase and a record high. It also projects return on invested capital in 2024 at 5.7%, which it says is “about 3.4 percentage points (ppt) below the average cost of capital.”

“The airline industry is on the path to sustainable profits, but there is a big gap still to cover. A 5.7% return on invested capital is well below the cost of capital, which is over 9%,” Walsh said.

“And earning just $6.14 per passenger is an indication of just how thin our profits are—barely enough for a coffee in many parts of the world.”

The IATA director called for tackling supply chain issues that have plagues the industry for years, as well as “relief” from what he called “the parade of onerous regulation and ever-increasing tax proposals.”

He argued that more business-friendly policy would also improve airlines’ abilities to “accelerate investments in sustainability.” Airlines are responsible for around 3% of global carbon emissions, and IATA has emphasized the need for the industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — something environmental experts and scientists have looked upon with skepticism.

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