International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Giovanni Bisignani characterized December’s decline in international air traffic as “shocking” during the British Air Transport Association’s annual dinner last night. Bisignani referred specifically to just-released figures showing a 22.6-percent decline in international cargo traffic compared with the same month in 2007. Meanwhile, passenger traffic fell 4.6 percent.
“Air cargo represents 35 percent of the value of goods traded internationally,” said Bisignani. “World trade is plummeting and the worst is yet to come. The only precedent is in the 1930s.” During September 2001, with much of the global fleet grounded, cargo traffic fell 13.9 percent.
Although, for the year, IATA statistics showed a 1.8-percent increase in passenger traffic and a comparatively modest 4-percent decline in cargo movement, airlines lost a total of some $5 billion last year and IATA expects them to lose another $2.5 billion this year.
“That does not fully describe the pain the industry is facing,” warned Bisignani. “We expect industry revenues to fall by 6.5 percent this year. That means that $35 billion in revenues will disappear. Worst hit will be Asia with losses of $1.1 billion.”
Of all the regions of the globe IATA examined, North America appears in the strongest position due in large part to its airlines’ relative failure to price hedge on fuel. That leaves North America’s airlines in a better position to take advantage of the recent fall in oil prices and, according to IATA, emerge as the only group of carriers likely to make a small profit this year.