Middle East air passenger traffic shows healthy growth

Increase despite carriers in the region having faced significant headwinds in the past year, including the temporary ban on large portable electronic devices, Iata says

FILE PHOTO: Emirates Airlines aircraft are seen at Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Ashraf Mohammad/File Photo
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Middle East carriers recorded a 3.4 per cent increase in demand in February compared to a year ago, the International Air Transport Association said on Thursday.

Capacity rose 3.9 per cent and load factor slipped 0.3 percentage point to 74.1 per cent. Carriers in the region faced significant headwinds in the past year, including the temporary ban on large portable electronic devices as well as the proposed travel bans to the United States from some countries in the region.

Iata said there was rebound in global traffic growth following the slower demand experienced in January, which was due to temporary factors including the later timing of the Lunar New Year this year.

"As expected, we saw a return to stronger demand growth in February, after the temporary slowdown in January. This is being supported by the robust economic backdrop and solid business confidence," said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata's director general and chief executive. "However, increases in fuel prices – and labour costs in some countries – likely will temper the amount of traffic stimulation from lower airfares this year."

Total revenue passenger kilometre (RPK) for the month rose 7.6 per cent, compared to February last year, up from 4.6 per cent year-over-year growth in January. Monthly capacity (available seat per kilometre or ASK) increased by 6.3 per cent, and load factor rose 0.9 percentage point to 80.4 per cent, surpassing the previous record for the month of 79.5 per cent, which was set in February last year.

February international passenger demand rose 7.2 per cent compared to February last year, which was up from the 4.2 per cent increase recorded in January. Led by airlines in Latin America, all regions recorded better year-on-year growth compared to January’s results. Total capacity climbed 5.9 per cent, and load factor rose 1 percentage point to 79.3 per cent.

African airlines experienced a 6.3 per cent rise in traffic for the month compared to the year-ago period. The growth occurred amid an improving regional economic backdrop. Business confidence in Nigeria has risen sharply in the past 15 months, while a reduction in political uncertainty in South Africa has contributed to an improvement in business confidence there for the first time in more than a year. Capacity rose 3.3 per cent, and load factor climbed 1.9 percentage points to 67.8 per cent.

Asia-Pacific airlines' February traffic rose 9.1 per cent compared to the year-ago period. Demand is being supported by healthy regional economic growth and expansion in the number of routes on offer. Capacity increased 8.4 per cent and load factor climbed 0.6 percentage point to 80.5 per cent.


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European carriers saw February demand increase by 6.8 per cent compared to a year ago, a modest acceleration compared to a 6 per cent increase in January. Passenger volumes are trending upward at a double-digit annualised rate alongside supportive economic conditions in the region. Capacity rose 5 per cent and load factor increased 1.4 percentage points to 82.2 per cent, highest among regions.

North American airlines’ traffic climbed 7.2 per cent in February, supported by the relatively vigorous US economic backdrop, while the weaker dollar appears to be offsetting some of the negative impacts on inbound travel. Capacity rose 4.6 per cent and load factor was up 1.9 percentage points to 78 per cent.

Latin American airlines posted the fastest year-on-year growth for a second consecutive month as February traffic jumped 9.8 per cent compared to February last year, up from 8.1 per cent growth in January. Demand continues to recover from the impacts of the severe 2017 hurricane season. Capacity increased by 8.9 per cent, and load factor rose 0.6 percentage point to 81.5 per cent.

"All around the globe, we see the same positive picture of growth in demand for aviation connectivity. Aviation is the business of freedom, enabling people to lead better lives. Aviation has helped to lift millions from poverty, but for aviation to deliver even greater benefits in future, adequate, affordable infrastructure is a must, said Mr de Juniac.

"A case in point is the Latin American region, where aviation already supports jobs for five million people and $170 billion in GDP. The potential for aviation to do far more exists, but without concerted action by governments to address capacity shortfalls, the region could face an infrastructure crisis in the future. Within the region, Mexico City is the most critical of the bottlenecks. The current airport was designed for 32 million passengers annually, but serves 47 million. The solution is a new airport, which is already under construction. But its future has been politicised in the current presidential election. The vital need for the new airport needs to be understood by all."

Globally, domestic travel demand rose 8.2 per cent in February compared to February last year, up from 4.9 per cent year-over-year growth in January, with all markets reporting increases, led by India and China. Domestic capacity climbed 7 per cent, and load factor increased 0.9 percentage point to 82.3 per cent.

India's domestic traffic rose 22.9 per cent, the 42nd consecutive month of double-digit year-on-year demand growth, and load factor exceeded 90 per cent for the first time on record. Passenger demand continues to be stimulated by network growth that translates into time savings for air travellers.

Australian domestic traffic rose 3.9 per cent compared to the year-ago period, which was a 17-month high.