Geneva - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) today announced that January 2010 demand statistics for international scheduled air traffic that showed continuing improvement. Compared to the previous year, January passenger demand was up 6.4%. Against this improving demand, a 1.2% increase in passenger capacity in January pushed load factors to 75.9% (up from the 72.2% recorded for January 2009).

International cargo demand showed a 28.3% improvement with only a 3.7% increase in capacity. This pushed the cargo load factor to 49.6% which is a step-change from the 40.1% recorded in January 2009.

The large increases in year-on-year comparisons reflect a steady improvement from the precipitous fall in demand that characterized the early part of 2009 rather than a dramatic improvement in January. Compared to December 2009, and adjusting for seasonal variations, passenger demand grew by 0.5% while air freight volumes increased by 3.0%.

“Airlines have lost 2-3 years of growth. Demand is moving in the right direction. The 3.0% increase in freight volumes from December to January is particularly encouraging. We can start to see the future with some cautious optimism, but better volumes do not necessarily mean better profits. Passenger yields are still 15% below peak. And we expect 2010 losses to be US$5.6 billion,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

There are large geographical differences in the improvements. The strongest upturns have been seen in markets where economic recovery from the recession has been strongest—Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

International Passenger Demand

Compared to the low point in the cycle (February 2009) international passenger traffic is up 8.6%. The market has not yet recovered from the losses of 2008 and early 2009. Demand must improve by a further 2% to return to the peak levels of early 2008.

  • Asia Pacific carriers experienced a 6.5% increase in demand compared to the previous year. Of the improvement in demand seen since the early 2009 low point, 31% has been realized by carriers in the region which is leading the global economic recovery.
  • Carriers in North America and Europe saw demand increase by 2.1% and 3.1% respectively. Although both regions have gained 6% from the early 2009 lows, they remain 4-6% below the early 2008 peak levels. This reflects the jobless recovery from the recession in which consumers are focused on paying down debt.
  • Middle Eastern carriers grew throughout the recession. Growth accelerated to 23.6% in January.
  • Latin American carriers saw demand increase by 11% in January on the back of a strong regional economy.
  • African carriers recorded a 6.3% improvement in January, assisted by robust regional economic activity.

International Cargo Demand

Compared to the low point in the cycle (December 2008-January 2009), international freight traffic has regained about 28%. This is still 3-4% below the early 2008 peak level.

  • The sharp improvement in air freight, which accelerated to 3.0% in January compared to December, is being driven by businesses re-stocking depleted inventories. This part of the inventory cycle will not last much longer. Durable air freight growth will require consumers to start buying again and businesses to return to making investments. While these improvements are beginning to be seen in Asia, Europe and North America lag behind.
  • With an 11.6% improvement in January compared to the previous year, carriers in Europe stand out for their sluggish demand recovery. Freight volumes are only 7% above the December 2008 low and 15% below the cycle peak.

“We are starting to see some encouraging signs in demand, albeit with large differences among the regions. Unfortunately the constraints of the archaic bilateral system limit airlines from being able to respond as normal businesses to market opportunities. We cannot behave like normal businesses. Political borders limit opportunities for consolidation. And we still require governments to negotiate open markets” said Bisignani.

Under the auspices of IATA’s Agenda for Freedom initiative, in November 2009, seven governments (Chile, Malaysia, Panama, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States) and the European Commissions signed a multilateral statement of policy principles focused on liberalization of the air transport industry. Premised on maintaining a level playing field, the policy principles support liberalization of ownership, market access and pricing. Its latest impact can be seen in the recent signing of an open skies bilateral agreement between Panama and Colombia.

“With each open skies bilateral, we take a step in the right direction. Recovering from the years of lost growth as a result of this crisis is a long and hard journey. Governments should not make it any more difficult by maintaining policies that restrict airlines ability to do business,” said Bisignani.

View full January traffic results

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Notes for Editors:

New Data Collection

  • Starting from January 2010, the traffic statistics now include low cost carriers and estimates for non-reporting airlines. As IATA member airlines carry 93% of international traffic measured by RPKs, this change does not make a large difference in the statistics. 
  • There is very little impact on air freight but the total market in international air travel shows a slightly smaller decline in 2009 than for RPKs carried by IATA member airlines (-2.5% vs -3.5%), mostly because of the growth of LCCs in Europe
  • Other regional differences
    • African airlines now show a smaller decline because of the inclusion of North African airlines who did better in 2009 that the Sub-Saharan African airlines
    • Inclusion of relatively faster-growing recent entrant airlines in Asia Pacific has reduced the passenger traffic decline in this region by a relatively modest amount.
  • 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
    • AFTK: Available Freight Tonne Kilometres measures available total freight capacity
    • FLF: Freight Load Factor is % of AFTKs used
  • International passenger traffic market shares by region in terms of RPK are: Europe 36.2%, Asia-Pacific 29.7%, North America 14.5%, Middle East 10.9%, Latin America 5.1%, Africa 3.6%
  • International freight traffic market shares by region in terms of FTK are: Asia-Pacific 45.1%, Europe 24.3%, North America 15.9%, Middle East 10.5%, Latin America 2.9%, Africa 1.3%
  • 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. Historic figures may be revised.