The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced global passenger traffic results for February display a second month of strong demand growth to begin 2017. Total revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) rose 4.8 per cent, compared to the same month last year.
Although this was below growth achieved in January, year-to-year comparisons are distorted because February 2016 was a leap month. Adjusting for the one fewer day this year, the underlying growth rate was estimated at 8.6 per cent, just under January’s increase of 8.9 per cent. Monthly capacity (available seat kilometers or ASKs) increased by 2.7 per cent, and load factor rose 1.6 percentage points to 79.5 per cent, which is the highest ever recorded for February, according to IATA records.
“The strong demand momentum from January has continued, supported by lower fares and a healthier economic backdrop,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive officer, IATA. “Although we remain concerned over the impact of any travel restrictions or closing of borders, we have not seen the attempted US ban on travel from six countries translate into an identifiable traffic trend. Overall travel demand continues to grow at a robust rate.”
IATA estimates that allowing for inflation, the price of air travel has fallen by more than 10 per cent in real terms over the past year, accounting for more than half the growth in RPKs in early 2017.
February international passenger demand rose 5.8 per cent compared to February 2016, which was down compared to the 9.1 per cent yearly increase recorded in January. Adjusting for the leap year, however, growth actually accelerated slightly compared to January. Total capacity climbed 3.4 per cent, and load factor rose 1.8 percentage points to 78.4 per cent.
European carriers saw February demand increase by 6.5 per cent compared to a year ago. Traffic has resumed its growth after the terrorist disruptions in 2016, supported in part by momentum in the regional economy. Capacity climbed 3.4 per cent and load factor surged 2.4 percentage points to 81.1 per cent.
Asia-Pacific airlines' February traffic rose 5.2 per cent compared to the year-ago period, maintaining the strong momentum of the past few months. Intra-Asia traffic remains robust and conditions on the Asia-Europe route have continued to recover from last year’s terrorism-related slowdown. Capacity increased 2.9 per cent and load factor climbed 1.7 percentage points to 79.8 per cent.
Middle East carriers had the strongest growth, with a 9.5 per cent demand increase in February compared to a year ago. Capacity rose 7.0 per cent and load factor climbed for a fourth consecutive month to 74.3 per cent, up 1.8 percentage points over last year.
North American airlines’ traffic climbed 0.3 per cent, which was the slowest among the regions. However, adjusting for the leap year, growth was estimated at 3.4per cent. Traffic to/ from Asia continues to move upward but transatlantic demand has trended sideways since mid-2016. Capacity inched up 0.1 per cent and load factor edged up 0.1 percentage point to 75.9 per cent.
Latin American airlines saw February traffic rise 5.9 per cent compared to February 2016. Capacity increased by 2.8 per cent, boosting load factor 2.3 percentage points to 81.4 per cent, highest among the regions. Robust international demand within South America is offsetting weaker traffic to North America, which has trended downward since mid-2015 and fell by 3.4 per cent in January, the most recent month for which route-specific results are available.
African airlines continued their recovery, with February traffic up 7.1 per cent compared to a year ago. This mainly reflects the upturn on the key route to/from Europe, offsetting struggles in the region’s biggest economies of Nigeria and South Africa. Capacity rose 2.3 per cent, and load factor jumped 2.9 percentage points to 66.0 per cent.
Domestic travel demand rose 3.3 per cent in February compared to February 2016, reduced from 8.7 per cent in January, but again, the leap year effect greatly exaggerated the slowdown. Results varied widely as Australia, Brazil and the US all registered non-adjusted declines. Domestic capacity climbed 1.6 per cent, and load factor increased 1.3 percentage points to 81.4 per cent.
Russia has joined India and China among the fastest growing markets. Traffic is now back on its trend line prior to the collapse of Transaero in late 2015, supported by steady recovery in the economy and ruble over the past year as oil prices have firmed. Elsewhere, US airlines’ upward momentum in the domestic market has stalled over the past six months.
The year has opened with some shocks—the attempted ban on travel to the US by citizens of six countries and the restrictions on the carry-on of large electronic items from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa on direct flights to the US and the UK. The potential implications of the Brexit talks on the air transport industry are significant and the political rhetoric of protectionism and closing of borders is adding to the ambiguity.
“It’s intolerable that governments continue to add to the uncertainties facing the air transport industry by failing to engage airline operational know-how on issues that can damage public confidence,” said de Juniac, hitting out especially as the current electronics ban.
“The introduction of restrictions on the carry-on of large electronic devices was a missed opportunity and the result was a measure that cannot stand-up to the scrutiny of public confidence in the long term. We all want to keep flying secure. And we can do that most effectively by working together,” he added.