IATA: Passenger Traffic Continues to Rise, Cargo Remains in Doldrums

 - February 29, 2012, 11:29 AM
The Middle East led all regions in traffic growth during the month of January. (Photo: Boeing)

Global airline traffic results for January showed a 5.7-percent rise in passenger demand but an 8-percent decline in air freight compared with the same month last year, according to statistics released last week by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The occurrence of Chinese New Year in January (rather than in February as in 2011) exaggerated the increase in passenger demand and the fall in air freight, said the association. Still, even while disregarding the effects of the date shift of the Chinese New Year, IATA statistics pointed to stronger passenger growth, while stabilized weakness in cargo markets continues.

“The year started with some hopeful news on business confidence. It appears that freight markets have stabilized, albeit at weak levels, said IATA director general and CEO Tony Tyler. “And this is having a positive impact on business-related travel. However, airlines face two big risks: rising oil prices and Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Both are hanging over the industry’s fortunes like the sword of Damocles.”

The rise in passenger demand accounted for a slight acceleration from the 5.6-percent year-over-year increase recorded in December 2011. With January passenger capacity up just 4.2 percent, average load factor rose 1.1 percentage points, to 76.6 percent, compared with the same month a year ago.

The decline in air freight stabilized in the fourth quarter of 2011, at levels 4 percent below the 2008 pre-crisis peak. Meanwhile, IATA attributed a 2.5-percent fall in global freight markets from December to January almost completely to the effect of factory closures due to the Chinese New Year. Freight capacity contracted by 0.6 percent year over year, and freight load factor fell to 41 percent, from 44.3 percent in January 2011, as deliveries of new widebody passenger aircraft offset measures to reduce available volume.

The Middle East led all regions in traffic growth last month, registering a 14.5-percent increase—representing a return of the double-digit rates recorded in 2010. Meanwhile, capacity rose 10.6 percent, increasing load factor to 78.5 percent.

African carriers turned in the weakest performance, reporting a 3.6-percent decline in demand and a 0.8-percent decline in capacity for a load factor of 64.8 percent, despite strong economic growth among sub-Saharan economies.

Finally, North America represented the only other region with a drop in passenger traffic, with a 0.3-percent decline. However, capacity also dropped 0.9 percent, pushing up load factors to 77.6 percent.