04 April 12 The Business Times by Ven Sreenivasan
(SINGAPORE) Global passenger and air cargo traffic growth improved in February, though some of this was due to distortions arising from one-off events during the month.
The International Air Transport Association (Iata) said that passenger demand grew 8.6 per cent year on year, while cargo demand grew 5.2 per cent from a year ago.
The overall global numbers were distorted by two events in particular.
One factor was the weaker traffic during the Arab Spring a year ago. Secondly, this year's numbers were inflated by Carnival in Brazil falling in February, a month earlier than in 2011.
Global passenger capacity expanded by 7.4 per cent compared to year-earlier levels, lagging behind the 8.6 per cent increase in demand. This has had a positive impact on load factors, which airlines have maintained at 75.3 per cent - better than the 74.4 per cent recorded in February 2011.
Asia-Pacific carriers saw a 5.9 per cent increase in passenger demand, with a 6.2 per cent increase in capacity and load factors at 75.4 per cent. Iata said that following a small spike in international travel over the Chinese New Year period in January, which saw 6.4 per cent growth, February traffic declined.
Freight demand continued to be relatively stable, a trend which started to develop in September 2011, and is consistent with improvements in business confidence.
But Iata said that cargo demand was also positively distorted by the occurrence of Chinese New Year in January, which pushed some deliveries into February. When comparing to January 2012 levels, the numbers become much more moderate, with passenger demand growing by 0.4 per cent and cargo demand declining by 1.2 per cent.
Cargo growth was led by Middle East carriers with an 18.2 per cent increase in demand, which was matched exactly with an 18.2 per cent increase in capacity. The largest volume contributor to February's growth, however, was the Asia-Pacific region, which posted a 10.2 per cent year on year gain.
Iata director-general and CEO Tony Tyler warned that the outlook for the industry remained fragile.
'Improvements in business confidence slowed in February,' he said. 'This will limit the potential for business class travel growth and it implies that an uptick for cargo is not imminent. At the same time, airlines trying to recoup rising fuel costs could risk reduced volumes on price-sensitive market segments. Weak economic conditions and rising fuel costs are a double-whammy that an industry anticipating a 0.5 per cent margin can ill-afford.'
Last month, Iata downgraded the profit outlook for the global aviation industry, citing spiking fuel prices as the biggest risk faced by airlines.
The international body, which counts over 93 per cent of network airlines as its members, expects the global aviation industry to chalk up a collective profit of US$3 billion (S$3.8 billion) this year, down from its December 2011 projection of US$3.5 billion.