ACI Asia-Pacific & Middle East reveals improving air connectivity in Asia-Pacific despite challenges. The Middle East shows strong growth with Dubai and Doha leading in transfer traffic.

ACI Asia-Pacific & Middle East released the Air Connectivity Ranking 2023 which presents a diverse recovery pattern, with notable improvements amidst geopolitical challenges.

Developed in partnership with PwC, the ACI Asia-Pacific & Middle East connectivity index offers a consumer-centric approach that considers consumer choices and quality of connections, in addition to the frequency of flights, seat capacity and the number of destinations. This index has been endorsed by the ICAO DGCA Conferences of the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions in October 2023 and May 2024 respectively. The second edition of the Report is built on standards that are globally acclaimed, measuring direct and indirect connections as well as connecting experience and quality. The ranking covers a sample of 300 airports, accounting for almost 93% of the combined passenger traffic in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

• The Middle East, which reported nearly 4% growth in passenger traffic in 2023 vs 2019, is on its way to recovery with the region lagging just 5% below 2019 level in air connectivity.

• In the Asia-Pacific region, the latest figures from the 2023 Ranking indicate significant strides towards recovery connectivity, despite remaining 13% below 2019 levels. This represents a substantial improvement from the 36% decline observed in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels, highlighting gradual but steady progress towards recovery.

Commenting on the outcome of the study, Mr. Stefano Baronci, Director General, ACI Asia-Pacific & Middle East said, “The report paints a positive picture of gradual recovery in air connectivity in Asia Pacific and steady growth in the Middle East, with regional issues significantly influencing the pace and extent of recovery. 2024 is expected to confirm this positive trend, with the 300 airports sampled in our report improving their connectivity by an average of 59% in quarter 1 of the year compared to the same quarter in 2023, largely boosted by the Asia-Pacific airports, especially in China. Small airports, however, will have to face the highest challenge and adequate transport policy support is recommended. To stay competitive, it is the right time to deploy reforms that are necessary to boost growth, especially in relation to timely build new airport infrastructure to accommodate future demand, further liberalising markets, and smoother visa policies. These factors will be key to give more affordable choices to consumers and to air travel efficient and hassle-free.”

ACI trends

Air Connectivity Ranking 2023

Key findings
  • Passenger traffic from Asia Pacific to other regions declined significantly due to prolonged recovery, primarily influenced by delayed market reopening in key areas like China, economic uncertainties, and operational limitations.
  • Traffic to the Middle East continued to increase in 2023, with the overall expansion of flight routes particularly to regions like Africa and Central & South America.
  • Dubai and Doha lead both regions in terms of transfer traffic, which can be attributable to the major airlines which are based there and serve extensive global networks.
  • Air Transport Liberalisation has enhanced trade, tourism, and overall economic growth through improved accessibility and connectivity.
  • The UAE is at the forefront of air liberalization in the Middle East, showcasing remarkable growth in total air connectivity.
  • Small airports have suffered the most in terms of connectivity drop and their recovery is expected to be slower than for bigger airports in terms of traffic.
Outlook for 2024

The Q1 2024 quarterly index shows that airports have improved their direct connectivity by an average of 59% compared to the same quarter in 2023. In Q3 2024, airports in APAC and ME are expected to increase seat capacity by an average of 10% compared to Q1. In 2024, the highest increase in seat capacity will largely be direct flights to & from China. The spotlight will be on Asia-Pacific as key markets that are dependent on Chinese traffic are expected to witness a gradual improvement in connectivity. As for Middle East, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai will be in spotlight as both the nations have added significant capacities to diverse range of destinations.


  • Building of new airport infrastructure, especially in megacities in Asia and fast-growing airports in Middle East, to meet the current and future demand.
  • Institutional Stakeholders should actively seek to remove limitations in air traffic rights to boost competition.
  • Timely consultation and engagement of airports, including ACI, in negotiations with third countries, is recommended. Air Service Agreements should also open up Points of entry/routes (e.g., international flights to secondary airports) and capacity limits in terms of number of seats and frequencies should be lifted
  • Relax visa policy to boost international traffic
  • Improve connectivity for Small Island Developing States by encouraging private sector participation in aviation and tourism infrastructure development. Connect small islands to high connectivity hubs with appropriate incentives.

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.