In perhaps another sign of an impending recovery for the world’s air transport industry, international scheduled air traffic for January rose 6.4 percent compared with the same period a year ago, according to figures released today by the International Air Transport Association (IATA.) The relatively robust gain came as airlines increased capacity by a mere 1.2 percent during the month, resulting in a load factor increase of 3.7 points, from 72.2 percent to 75.9 percent.
Meanwhile, international cargo demand showed a 28.3-percent improvement. Capacity rose just 3.7 percent, resulting in a 49.6-percent cargo load factor, compared with an abysmal 40.1 percent recorded in January 2009.
Still, the jump in year-over-year traffic reflects more of a steady improvement from the precipitous fall in demand that characterized the early part of 2009 than a dramatic improvement in January, according to IATA. Compared with December 2009, and adjusting for seasonal variations, passenger demand grew by 0.5 percent while air freight volumes increased by 3 percent.
“Airlines have lost two to three years of growth,” said IATA director general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani. “Demand is moving in the right direction. The three-percent increase in freight volumes from December to January is particularly encouraging. We can start to see the future with some cautious optimism, but better volumes do not necessarily mean better profits. Passenger yields are still 15 percent below peak. And we expect 2010 losses to be $5.6 billion.”
According to IATA, the strongest improvements have come in markets that have recovered most effectively from the recession–namely, in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Carriers in North America and Europe saw demand increase by 2.1 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively. Although both regions have gained 6 percent from their early 2009 lows, they remain 4 to 6 percent below their early 2008 peak levels, reflecting a jobless recovery from the recession in which consumers have focused on paying down debt.