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Press Release No.: 11

Date: 26 March 2009

Freight Stabilizes, Passenger Drops

Geneva - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) today announced international traffic statistics for the month of February showing continuing deterioration in demand.

Passenger volumes fell sharply to 10.1% below 2008 levels (from the -5.6% recorded in January).  The 5.9% reduction in capacity - the most aggressive since the crisis began - could not keep pace with the fall in demand, pushing the February load factor down to 69.9% (3.2 percentage points below the same month in the previous year).

February international freight volumes were 22.1% below 2008 levels. This is the third consecutive month at more than 20% below previous year levels (-23.2 in January and -22.6% in December).

“Gloom continues. The sharp drop in February passenger traffic shows the broadening scope of the crisis. Freight traffic, which began its decline in June 2008 before passenger markets were hit, has now had three consecutive months in the -22% to -23% range. We may have found a bottom to the freight decline, but the magnitude of the drop means that it will take time to recover,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Passenger

  • The decline in demand for international travel outpaced capacity adjustments in all regions.
  • African carriers saw the largest demand decline (-13.7%), outpacing even the most aggressive capacity cuts (-11.8%).
  • Asia-Pacific carriers saw passenger traffic decline by 12.8%, far outstripping the -7.8% capacity adjustment. The region’s export dependant economies continue to suffer, impacting both business and leisure travel - particularly to long-haul destinations. While this may be somewhat exaggerated by Chinese New Year (which took place in January 2009 and February 2008), the sharp downward drop from the -8.4% recorded in January shows the deepening impact of the crisis on this region.
  • North American carriers recorded a 12.0% drop in demand, also outpacing an aggressive -7.1% capacity adjustment. Consumer confidence remains low in what is traditionally a weak month for travel.
  • Europe’s carriers saw traffic fall in line with the global average at -10.1%. Long-haul markets to the US and Asia have been particularly hard hit reflecting negative economic sentiment such as that seen in Germany where business confidence hit new lows in both February and again this month. 
  • Latin American carriers most closely matched demand drops (-3.8%) with capacity adjustment (-2.4%). A slowdown in commodities is impacting trade - particularly with the US and Asia. 
  • Middle East carriers bucked the trend of falling demand with an increase of 0.4% in international passenger traffic. But an aggressive capacity increase of 7.3% drove load factors down 4.7 percentage points to 68.1%.

Cargo

  • All cargo markets saw extremely weak demand continue as a result of the collapse in international trade in goods and the much lower shipment of components by manufacturers.  However, the level of air freight appears to have found a floor over the past three months. The recently released Eurozone Purchase Managers Indices, being useful forward looking indicators for cargo traffic, showed a slight and unexpected improvement in March - although it remained in negative territory.
  • Middle Eastern carriers experienced the smallest fall in demand (-4.8%). They were also the only region to increase capacity (+5.4%).
  • African carriers had the worst performance with a 30.7% drop in international freight traffic due to a loss of market share on long-haul routes combined with the impact of the economic downturn.
  • Asian carriers - the largest players in cargo - saw demand fall by 24.7% as the region’s high-value export-dependant industries were hard hit by falling consumer demand in the major markets of Europe, the US and Japan.  Japanese exports have almost halved from February 2008 levels.
  • European and North American carriers saw cargo demand decline 23.1% and 21.8% respectively. Government stimulus plans have not yet rekindled consumer demand.
  • Latin American carriers experienced a demand drop of 22.8% driven by weakening demand for the region’s commodities.

Bisignani reminded governments that air transport is a catalyst for economic activity and called for policy changes to help them to stimulate economies by playing this role effectively.  “Governments are spending trillions to bailout the banks and trillions more to stimulate economies. By comparison, our requests to governments are cost-effective and cheap. First, air transport needs a tax structure that will help preserve industry jobs and allow air transport to play its role as a catalyst for broad economic activity. Governments must repeal the US$6.9 billion in new taxes put on the industry in 2009 to help pay for banking bailouts - despite being branded as environmental measures. More broadly governments must replace the mindset of taxing aviation as a luxury or a sin with a strategic approach that recognises and fosters the industry’s critical economic role in connecting people to business and products to markets. Second, airlines need the commercial freedoms to be able to merge or consolidate where it makes business sense - even across national borders,” said Bisignani.

Bisignani also warned that the burden of the crisis requires an industry response. “This is not just an airline crisis. Efficiency must be a priority for the entire value chain. A 25% reduction in landing charges at Singapore Changi Airport and a 50% reduction at Malaysian Airports are major steps in the right direction. These are model programmes for others to follow,” said Bisignani.

“The priority for airlines around the world is survival - conserving cash and adjusting capacity to match demand. This means re-sizing and re-shaping the industry to deal with the US$62 billion (12%) fall in revenues expected this year. Airlines will be making some tough decisions to stay afloat as we head for industry losses of US$4.7 billion in 2009,” said Bisignani.

View full February traffic results (pdf)

For more information, please contact:
Corporate Communications
Tel: +41 22 770 2967
Email: corpcomms@iata.org

 

Notes for Editors:

  • IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents some 230 airlines comprising 93% of scheduled international air traffic.
  • Explanation of measurement terms:
    • RPK: Revenue Passenger Kilometres measures actual passenger traffic
    • ASK: Available Seat Kilometres measures available passenger capacity 
    • PLF: Passenger Load Factor is % of ASKs used. In comparison of 2009 to 2008, PLF indicates point differential between the periods compared 
    • FTK: Freight Tonne Kilometres measures actual freight traffic 
    • ATK: Available Tonne Kilometres measures available total capacity (combined passenger and cargo) 
  • IATA statistics cover international scheduled air traffic; domestic traffic is not included. 
  • All figures are provisional and represent total reporting at time of publication plus estimates for missing data. 
  • International passenger traffic market shares by region in terms of RPK are: Europe 32.5%, Asia Pacific 32.5%, North America 17.2%, Middle East 10.9%, Latin America 5.1%, Africa 1.9%
  • International freight traffic market shares by region in terms of FTK are: Asia Pacific 42.9%, Europe 27.0%, North America 16.7%, Middle East 10.3%, Latin America 2.2%, Africa 0.9%

 

 

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