Moderating rise in traffic expected in 2019 as passenger load factor hits record levels in IATA’s latest annual results.

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Trade tensions continue to cause uncertainty despite rising numbers in the passenger growth market, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said.

The latest figures from the IATA year-end results show that demand, measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), increased by 6.5% in 2018.

Although the figure was less than the 2017 annual growth of 8.0%, IATA said it was another 12 months of above-trend growth with capacity climbing 6.1% and passenger load factor at a record 81.9%.

However, IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac, commenting on the results said: “2018 was another year of strong passenger demand, as aviation continued to support the global economy. We expect similar, if somewhat moderating performance in 2019.

“Nevertheless, slowing growth in the second half of 2018, coupled with concerns over issues including Brexit and US-China trade tensions, are creating some uncertainty to this positive outlook.”

Slowing growth in the second half of 2018, coupled with concerns over issues including Brexit and US-China trade tensions, are creating some uncertainty

In December, RPKs were up 5.3% year-on-year but this was the slowest rate of growth since January 2018. Demand growth’s annualized rate dropped from 9% at the halfway stage of 2018 to 5% at the year-end.

International results saw passenger traffic rise 6.3% in 2018, a drop from 8.6% the year before. Capacity increased by 5.7% year-on-year and passenger load factor edged up 0.4% to 81.2%.

The leading markets of India and China helped domestic travel climb 7.0%, which was a flat rate compared to 2017. Both states posted double-digit annual increases, as domestic capacity in general rose 6.8% and load factor crept up to 83.0%, a 0.2% increase from 2017.

India’s domestic market posted the fastest full-year domestic growth rate for the fourth consecutive year, with an 18.6% annual demand increase as a result of robust economic expansion and increasing numbers of city pairs.

In the international markets all regions recorded year-on-year increases in traffic, led by Asia-Pacific. However, North America and Africa were the only two regions to post stronger demand growth in 2018 compared to the prior year’s performance.

Celebrating the overall figures, de Juniac said IATA will continue to fight against protectionist policies and promote air connectivity throughout the world.

“Aviation safely transported more than 4.3 billion passengers to conduct trade and business, reunite with friends and loved ones, explore the world, and, in some cases even to begin new lives,” he said. 

“Aviation makes the modern world possible, but we depend on borders that are open to people and trade to be effective. 

“In 2019, we will be strong advocates against a rising tide of protectionism and trade conflict, so that the Business of Freedom can continue to do its part to make the world a more prosperous and happier place.”

See the breakdown by international region below:

  • Asia-Pacific airlines’ 2018 traffic rose 7.3%, compared to 2017, driven by robust regional economic expansion and an increase in route options for travelers. Capacity rose 6.4%, and load factor ticked up 0.7 percentage point to 80.6%. 
  • European carriers’ international traffic climbed 6.6% in 2018 compared to the previous year, which was down from 9.4% growth the year before. Capacity rose 5.9% and load factor increased 0.6 percentage point to 85.0%, which was the highest for any region. 
  • Middle East carriers’ traffic increased 4.2% last year, down from 6.9% growth in 2017. It was the second year in a row of moderating demand growth. Capacity climbed 5.2% and load factor slipped 0.7 percentage point to 74.7%.
  • North American airlines had their fastest demand growth since 2011, with full-year traffic rising 5.0% compared to 2017, an increase from 4.7% annual growth in 2017. Capacity climbed 3.7%, and load factor edged up 1.0 percentage point to 82.6%, second highest among the regions.  
  • Latin American airlines’ traffic climbed 6.9% in 2018, a slowdown compared to 8.8% annual growth in 2017. Capacity rose 7.7% and load factor dipped 0.6 percentage point to 81.8%.
  • African airlines saw 2018 traffic rise 6.5% compared to 2017, which was an increase compared to 6.0% annual growth in 2017. Capacity rose 4.4%, and load factor jumped 1.4 percentage points to 71.0%.
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