IATA officials say February air passenger traffic was slowed due to political turmoil

GENEVA, Switzerland, 5 April 2011. Officials at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data on international air passenger traffic and cargo traffic for the month of February 2011 that showed increases compared to February 2010, but a drop compared to January this year.

Apr 5th, 2011

Posted by John McHale
GENEVA, Switzerland, 5 April 2011. Officials at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data on international air passenger traffic and cargo traffic for the month of February 2011 that showed increases compared to February 2010, but a drop compared to January this year.
February 2011 showed increases of 6.0 percent and 2.3 percent respectively for passenger and cargo demand compared to February 2010.
February demand growth was down significantly from the revised 8.4 percent and 8.7 percent expansion recorded in January for passenger and cargo traffic respectively, IATA officials say. The political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa during February is estimated to have cut international traffic by about 1 percent. As such it is responsible almost entirely for the slippage in passenger demand growth.
In addition to the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, the more dramatic fall in cargo growth -- from 8.7 percent in January 2011 to 2.3 percent in February -- was impacted in part by factory shutdowns due to the Chinese New Year period which fell in the first part of February in 2011.
"Another series of shocks is denting the industry's recovery from the recession," says Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and chief executive officer. "As the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia spreads across the Middle East and North Africa, demand growth across the region is taking a step back. The tragic earthquake and its aftermath in Japan will most certainly see a further dampening of demand from March. The industry fundamentals are good. But extraordinary circumstances have made the first quarter of 2011 very difficult."
February marked a decline in load factors in both the cargo and the passenger business. February passenger load factors stood at 73.0 percent. On a seasonally adjusted basis they have lost 2.2 percentage points on peak levels as capacity additions have consistently exceeded demand growth. Freight load factors have deteriorated even faster to 51.6 percent. This is four percentage points below their peak in May 2010, on a seasonally adjusted basis.
International passenger traffic
By February 2011, air travel volumes were 16 percent higher compared to the low point reached in early 2009 and some 5 percent above the pre-recession peak of early 2008.
Europe's carriers recorded 7.4 percent growth compared to February 2010 against a 9.8 percent increase in capacity. This was slower than the 7.9 percent demand growth reported for January showing the impact of fall off in trans-Mediterranean traffic to North Africa due to the unrest in the region.
North American airlines reported 6.7 percent year-on-year growth for February and a capacity expansion of 11.9 percent. In recent months, the region's airlines have seen dampened demand due to several factors starting with disruptive winter conditions in December and January, followed by political unrest last month in the Middle East and North Africa. As a result, there is a widening gap between supply and demand pushing the load factor down to 71.7 percent, significantly below the 82.2 percent recorded for the full year in 2010.
Asia-Pacific airlines reported a major slowdown to 3.0 percent growth, half of the 6.3 percent recorded for January. A capacity increase of 6.6 percent pushed the load factor down to 75.4 percent. Chinese New Year fell at the beginning of February, pushing some of the holiday traffic into late January.
Middle East airlines saw demand growth fall from 12.0 percent in January to 8.4 percent in February. A capacity increase of 11.0 percent resulted in a load factor of 72.2 percent. Political unrest in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria is expected to have an impact on the region's markets in March. These three countries represent about 6 percent of Middle Eastern traffic and 0.3 percent of global capacity.
Africa saw traffic fall by 1.3 percent compared to February 2010. Against a capacity expansion of 6.9 percent, load factors fell to 60.4 percent. Egypt and Tunisia account for 18 percent of the African market and 0.6 percent of worldwide capacity. Libya is a further 3 percent of the African market and 0.1 percent of global capacity. The impact of political unrest has been severe with absolute traffic (measured by RPKs) falling by 13.1 percent compared to January levels.
Latin American airlines were least exposed to volatility in February. Passenger demand increased by 11.8 percent. This was virtually matched with a capacity expansion of 12.9 percent allowing the region's carriers to maintain the strongest load factor among regions at 76.4 percent.
Freight demand
February air freight volumes stood at the same level as the pre-recession cycle peak in early 2008. But it was down almost 7 percent on the high reached in May 2010 at the peak of business re-stocking.
The industry’s fundamentals are strong. Business confidence, as measured by the purchasing managers’ index, reached its second highest level ever in February.
Air freight carried by Asia-Pacific carriers fell by 4.5 percent in February. This reflects plant closures associated with Chinese New Year as well as the impact of inflation-fighting measures in the Chinese economy. In terms of volumes, this had the largest impact in slowing global growth to 2.3 percent -- the weakest growth since the beginning of the third quarter in 2009 when annual growth rates turned positive again out of the recession. Compared to January, freight carried by the region’s carriers fell by 6.6 percent.
On the back of unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, cargo carried by African carriers fell by 5.7 percent. In absolute terms, the freight carried by the region’s carriers fell by 8.4 percent in February compared to January.
North American carriers saw freight expand by 11.8 percent, second only to the robust 12.1 percent expansion by Latin American carriers. European carriers showed weak growth of 6.3 percent, reflecting the region's proximity and trade connections with North Africa and the continuing weakness in the European economy.
"The industry situation is volatile and we are watching higher fuel prices carefully," Bisignani says. "Capacity increases ahead of demand are bringing down load factors for both passenger and cargo operations. Demand is still supported by strong economic fundamentals. But with looser supply and demand conditions, it will be a challenge for airlines to recover the added costs of fuel. Our pathetic 1.4 percent expected margin for 2011 is under considerable pressure."
Based on an average oil price of $96 per barrel, IATA is forecasting fuel to account for 29 percent of average operating costs with a total fuel bill of $166 billion. For every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil, the industry must recover an additional $1.6 billion in added costs.

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