Airline Indicators Soften, Slow Growth Seen for 2012

 - January 18, 2012, 9:39 PM
Eurocontrol issued a downward revision to its 2011 estimate of flight movements across Europe and said 2012 will see significantly fewer flights than estimated last fall. (Photo: Eurocontrol)

Airline passenger, freight and traffic numbers softened toward the end of 2011, reflecting the ongoing weak global economy. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects the slow growth to continue this year.

IATA reported that global passenger traffic in November increased 4.3 percent over the previous year, but said that number is skewed because November 2010 was a particularly weak month. The softening in passenger traffic becomes apparent when compared with October 2011, which saw a decline of 0.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, IATA said. Passenger load factors fell to 76.3 percent from 78.5 percent in October.

Freight markets in November 2011 finished 3.1 percent below November 2010 levels. IATA said international freight load factors have declined 6 percentage points from their peak in mid-2010. “Weak global economic performance is being reflected in air transport markets,” Tony Tyler, IATA director general and CEO, said in December. “Freight markets have contracted some 4 percent compared to January [2011]. Although passenger markets have had some growth relative to the beginning of the year—about 2 percent—the trend has been both soft and volatile. Continuing economic uncertainty will likely mean market shortcomings deepening as we enter 2012.”

Eurocontrol’s Statistics and Forecast Service, in a quarterly short-term forecast of instrument flight rules (IFR) flight movements released last month, said air traffic in November 2011 decreased by 1 percent below November 2010 levels for the agency’s statistical reference area.

Eurocontrol revised down its previous estimate of 4.5 percent growth in European traffic in 2011, to 3.3 percent, and said 2012 “will see significantly fewer flights” than estimated last fall “despite the leap year effect as well as major sporting events.” It expects the situation to improve to 3.5 percent growth in flights in 2013.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported on January 18 that U.S. airlines carried 61.2 million scheduled domestic and international passengers in October, down 1.5 percent from October 2010.

However, the number of passengers carried for the first 10 months of 2011 increased by 1.5 percent over the same period in 2010. U.S. airlines carried 613 million total passengers from January through October, comprising 534.6 million domestic and 78.4 million international—their highest totals since 2008.