Air traffic up in July, freight lower: IATA

Air traffic up in July, freight lower: IATA

Geneva: Global air passenger numbers were surprisingly strong in July, while freight markets stagnated and the end of 2011 is still expected to be weak, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Thursday.

International passenger traffic rose 5.9% in July year-on-year, while freight traffic fell 0.4%, mainly due to weakness in the Asia-Pacific region following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, IATA said.

The rise in passenger numbers in July meant airlines filled 83.1% of available seats, even though capacity -- “available seat kilometres" -- rose by 5.4%.

Planes were fullest in North America, where the “passenger load factor" was 86.8% in July, though that was also the region with the smallest increase in available capacity.

IATA said the increase in international passenger travel, which went beyond the normal seasonal fluctuation caused by holidays in the northern hemisphere, probably reflected optimism earlier in the year. The outlook, however, looked less rosy.

“With business and consumer confidence now tanking, sluggishness in international trade, and high fuel prices, the expectation is for a weaker end to the year. We are already seeing this in the shrinking air freight markets, which were 0.4% down on the previous year," Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO, said in a statement.

Governments are partly to blame, he said.

“Some of our challenges have a high percentage of government-made content. The recent downsizing of Air Berlin is a clear reminder of the high cost of the German departure tax on the economy, jobs and communities.

“Governments should not compromise aviation’s role as an economic catalyst for the short-term revenue gain of gratuitous taxation -- particularly when economies remain weak," said Tyler.

Domestic passenger numbers were much weaker than international figures, largely because of the slump in Japan, where passenger traffic fell 16.7% from July 2010.

However, Indian and Brazilian domestic passenger traffic leapt by 20.6% and 17.8%, respectively. But the biggest markets, the United States and China, were sluggish. US growth was 2.1%, while Chinese traffic growth “slowed abruptly" to 5.1%, IATA said.

In freight markets, the overall fall of 0.4% since July 2010 reflected a 3.9% decline in the Asia-Pacific region and a 0.5% slip in Europe, which together outweighed single digit growth elsewhere in the world.

“Freight load factors have declined significantly (1.8 percentage points) to the pre-recession level of 45%. Asia-Pacific carriers, the largest in the market, have seen load factors slip to 58.1% (from 60.2% in July 2010)," IATA said.