Global demand for air travel increased in March, albeit at the slowest rate in nine years and well below the average of the past five years, according to data released
Wednesday by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The annual growth in industrywide revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) eased to 3.1 percent in March, down from 5.1 percent in February and markedly lower than the 7 percent five-year average growth rate.
IATA attributed the dip largely to the timing of the Easter holiday, which fell nearly a month later than in 2018, and the trade body’s director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said he does not see the March performance as a “bellwether” for the rest of 2019. Nevertheless, he struck a cautionary tone in his description of the overall economy and, by extension, near-term prospects for the airline business. “The economic backdrop has become somewhat less favorable, with the IMF having recently revised its GDP outlook downward for a fourth time in the past year,” he noted.
March passenger traffic growth slowed in both the international and domestic markets, the statistics revealed. International passenger demand compared with March 2018 rose just 2.5 percent, or 2 percentage points less than the year-over-year growth rate recorded in February and almost 5 percentage points below its five-year average pace. All regions showed growth—led by Latin America, recording a 5.5 percent year-over-year rise in RPKs—with the exception of the Middle East. Middle East carriers’ passenger demand fell 3 percent in March, marking a second consecutive month of declining traffic. The downward trend in the seasonal adjusted RPK data since around mid-2018 partly reflects the broader structural changes taking place in that region, IATA pointed out.
Industrywide capacity measured in ASKs on cross-border routes climbed 4 percent, and load factor fell 1.2 percentage points to 80.8 percent. With 84.2 percent of seats filled, carriers in Europe recorded the highest load factor among all regions in March. Though demand rose 4.7 percent over March 2018, the figure represented a decline from a 7.5 percent annual growth in February. “The result partly reflects falling business confidence in the Eurozone and ongoing uncertainty about Brexit,” IATA said.
Domestic demand rose 4.1 percent in March, compared with a 6.2 percent increase recorded in February. Developments in the domestic Chinese and Indian markets drove most of the moderation. India’s domestic traffic rose just 3.1 percent in March, well-off the torrid five-year average growth pace of close to 20 percent per month. The slowdown largely reflects the reduction in flight operations of Jet Airways—which stopped flying in April—as well as disruptions at Mumbai airport owing to construction. Rising airfares in recent months also likely weighed on passenger demand, according to IATA. China’s 2.9 percent year-on-year growth marked its weakest performance since early 2015.
Domestic Russia continues to perform strongly in terms of passenger demand, recording a double-digit year-on-year growth rate (14.2 percent) for the eighth consecutive month. Lower airfares, a generally solid economic backdrop, and growth in the number of airport connections within the country compared to a year ago supported the recent “brisk performance,” noted IATA.