IATA’s February Traffic Results Benefit from “Positive Distortion”

 - April 9, 2012, 10:50 AM
Middle East and African carriers saw international traffic soar in February, due largely to the Arab Spring’s negative effect on volume a year earlier. (Photo: Airbus)

“Positive distortion” caused by geopolitical and other factors inflated February 2012 traffic results reported by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose statistics showed an 8.6-percent improvement in passenger demand and a 5.2-percent rise in cargo demand compared with the same month last year. 

Weaker traffic during the Arab Spring a year ago and the occurrence of Carnival in Brazil in February this year—a month earlier than in 2011—inflated February 2012 passenger results. Meanwhile, the growth in cargo demand resulted largely due to the occurrence of the Chinese New Year in January, which pushed some deliveries into February, said IATA. A comparison to January 2012 results perhaps offers a more accurate view of the industry’s performance in February, as passenger demand grew by only 0.4 percent and cargo demand declined by 1.2 percent compared with the previous month.

Meanwhile, global passenger capacity expanded by 7.4 percent compared with previous-year levels, lagging behind the 8.6-percent increase in demand and increasing load factors to 75.3 percent, compared with 74.4 percent in February 2011.

“The outlook is fragile,” said IATA director general and CEO Tony Tyler. “Improvements in business confidence slowed in February. This will limit the potential for business-class travel growth and it implies that an uptick for cargo is not imminent.”

International passenger markets saw the most robust gains during the period, said IATA, as demand for international travel stood at 9.3 percent above 2011 levels. Capacity expanded by 7.3 percent and load factors stood at 74.4 percent.

Middle East and African carriers experienced the strongest growth—at 23.4 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively—due to their poor performances a year earlier, during the height of the Arab Spring.

Perhaps most surprisingly, however, Europe registered a particularly strong month despite the continent’s sovereign debt crisis and waning consumer confidence. European carriers saw a 7.6-percent increase in international demand, well ahead of the 5-percent increase in capacity, resulting in a load factor of 74.4 percent—some 1.8 points ahead of the ratio they posted during the same month a year earlier.

North America registered the weakest growth during the month, at 4.9 percent. Nevertheless, continued capacity restraint led to an increase in available seat miles of only 4.3 percent. Although weak compared with other regions, North America’s performance improved significantly over its January showing, when international demand contracted by 0.3 percent. The improvement follows strengthened consumer confidence and economic conditions, said IATA.