Load factor record broken again as airlines persist through difficult operating conditions.

The latest figures from the International Air Transport Association show that year-on-year passenger traffic growth slowed in 2019.

Although demand—measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs)—increased by 4.2% compared to 2018, the annual growth is less than the 7.3% increase posted a year earlier.

This marks the first year passenger demand has fallen below the long-term trend (5.5%) since 2009, following the global financial crisis.

Capacity—measured in available seat kilometers (ASKs)—grew by 3.4% as load factor rose 0.7 percentage point to 82.6%, a record high. 

Airlines did well to maintain steady growth last year in the face of a number of challenges

It is the second year in a row of record load factors, following 2018’s figure of 81.9%.

December 2019 RPKs climbed 4.5% compared to the year ago period, an improvement over the 3.3% annual growth recorded in November. 

Solid demand in North America played a key part in driving the December increase.

“Airlines did well to maintain steady growth last year in the face of a number of challenges,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

“A softer economic backdrop, weak global trade activity, and political and geopolitical tensions took their toll on demand. 

“Astute capacity management, and the effects of the 737 MAX grounding, contributed to another record load factor, helping the industry to manage through weaker demand and improving environmental performance.”

Overall international passenger traffic rose 4.1% compared to 2018, but was down from 7.1% annual growth the previous year.

All regions enjoyed growth in 2019, with African airlines leading the way encouraged by a supportive economic backdrop and increased connectivity.