Traffic figures released by IATA today show that year-on-year growth in international airline passenger numbers slowed in March to 3.8% from the 5.8% recorded in February.
Conversely, year-on-year growth in freight markets rebounded to 3.7% in March from the 1.8% recorded in February.
Compared to February, global passenger demand fell by 0.3% in March, while cargo demand expanded by 4.5%.
“The profile of the recovery in air transport sharply decelerated in March. The global industry lost two percentage points of demand as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA),” says Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO.
The impact of the events in Japan on global international traffic was a 1% loss of traffic in March. Looked at regionally, Asia-Pacific carriers saw a traffic loss of over 2%, North American carriers had a 1% drop and Europe’s carriers a 0.5% fall. Japan’s domestic market was the most severely impacted with a 22% fall in demand.
The disruptions in MENA cut international travel by 0.9 percentage points. Egypt and Tunisia experienced traffic levels 10-25% below normal for March. Military action in Libya virtually stopped civil aviation to, from and within that country.
According to IATA, the second quarter is likely to see continued depressed air travel markets due to the events in Japan and MENA. However, strong underlining economic growth trends should support recovery in both passenger and cargo markets in the second half of 2011.
Bisignani notes: “The big uncertainty is the price of oil. Even in the $120 a barrel range, it appears that strong economic growth in markets outside of Europe is continuing. We see this in the strong demand from business for premium travel which maintained 7.7% growth through February. But many leisure travellers are putting off flying because of the impact of high oil prices.
"The fragility of the situation is demonstrated by the considerably weaker 3.3% year-on-year growth in economy class travel in February. And, despite efficiency gains, the industry’s 1.4% profit margin leaves it vulnerable in the face of volatile markets."