Airports, airlines, services companies, and travelers still have a long wait until global air traffic returns to normal. So far, the recovery has proven to be uneven by region, and uncertainty regarding a spike in COVID-19 cases from the delta variant is clouding the industry’s prospects.

In a report published today, “Airports Face A Long Delay To Global Air Traffic Recovery,” S&P Global Ratings says it believes the long-anticipated recovery may be pushed well into 2022 or later, particularly if intercontinental air traffic remains subdued, vulnerable as it is to pandemic-related travel restrictions and sluggish business travel.

Domestic travel numbers reached 85% of the 2019 level in July this year across the Americas and Asia, but international traffic only 26%, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), signaling an uneven and protracted recovery of global air traffic. The upswing in domestic air travel during the summer contributed to the return of our outlooks on U.S. airports to stable this year, even though the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus has triggered a more cautious near-term stance.

In Europe, however, air traffic reached only 20%-25% of 2019 levels in January-July and almost all our airport ratings still carry negative outlooks; even if traffic picks up to about 40%, the full-year average will be at the bottom of the 30%-50% range we expected. The situation is mixed in Asia-Pacific, where international travel through Australian airports is just 1%-3% of that in 2019 and although domestic air travel increased to 60%-80%, recurring lockdowns have led to significant fluctuations.