Unrest has little effect on Middle East airlines

Middle East airlines enjoyed stronger growth in April as long-haul international air travel rebounded.

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Unrest in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria had only a marginal impact on Middle East airlines in April as demand for air travel surged 12.1 per cent compared with the same period last year.

The growth was more than double the gains reported in March, according to data from the International Air Transport Association (Iata), and reflected broader gains for April for airlines around the world.

The performance indicates "a return of confidence" to the region's long-haul operations, Iata said. "While political unrest in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria continued through the month, the impact was small as the three markets combined account for only 6 per cent of Middle East traffic", it said.

The Middle East, home to a number of full-service airlines that serve the transfer market between Asia and the West, benefited from a rebound in international markets. Demand for international flights grew by 16.5 per cent in April compared with the same month last year.

"While this is exaggerated by the comparison with April 2010, during which European airspace was closed due to the volcanic ash crisis, international travel markets in April had grown to reach a level 7 per cent higher than the pre-recession peak of early 2008," Iata said.

However, the airline industry outlook was clouded by cyclical events, such as the fallout from the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, said Giovanni Bisignani, Iata's director general and chief executive. "Unfortunately two things are spoiling the party - demand shocks and high jet-fuel prices," he said.

North African carriers dragged down the continent's performance due to lingering effects of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions as well as ongoing civil war in Libya. However, African carriers reported a modest 1.2 per cent growth in international markets compared with April last year, an improvement from the 7.1 per cent decrease recorded in March. The number of flights operated into and out of Egypt and Tunisia is down by about a quarter compared with last year.

Elsewhere, Latin American carriers reported a 25.9 per cent increase in international demand in April, higher than the 22.7 per cent recorded in March. "The region's airlines are continuing to benefit from the strong demand for commodities, and the dynamic growth of trade within the region and along trade lanes with Asia," the Iata report said.

North American carriers are also reporting strong demand in international markets, with travel up by 11.9 per cent, but domestic flights grew by only 1.2 per cent.

Domestic demand rose the most in many of the Brics nations, with Indian domestic expansion tripling over the past five years, while demand in China and Brazil doubled over the same period.