Global air traffic increased by 5.2% in 2013 year-on-year, driven by demand from the Middle East and Asia Pacific and aligning with the average annual growth rate of the past 30 years.
Demand in international markets (+5.4%) expanded at a slightly faster rate than domestic travel (+4.9%) with the strongest overall growth recorded by carriers in the Middle East (+11.4%) followed by Asia-Pacific (+7.1%), Latin America (+6.3%) and Africa (+5.2%). The slowest growth was in the developed markets of North America (+2.3%) and Europe (+3.8%).
“We saw healthy demand growth in 2013 despite the very difficult economic environment,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “There was a clear improvement trend over the course of the year which bodes well for 2014.
“Last year’s demand performance demonstrates the essential and growing role that aviation-enabled connectivity plays in our world. And with system-wide load factors at 79.5% it is also clear that airlines are continuing to drive efficiencies to an ever-higher level.”
INTERNATIONAL TRAFFIC DRIVERS
Asia-Pacific airlines’ traffic rose 5.3% in 2013, the highest increase among the three major regions and slightly above 2012 annual growth of 5.2%. After a slow start, carriers in the region saw a pick-up in demand in the third quarter, supported by stronger performance of major economies such as China and Japan.
European carriers saw traffic rise 3.8% in 2013 compared to 2012, a slowdown compared to annual growth of 5.3% in 2012. Modest economic improvements in the Eurozone since the second quarter and rising consumer and business confidence are providing a stronger demand base for international travel; and after weakness in previous months, job losses in the Eurozone stabilised in December.
North American carriers reported the slowest passenger growth of any region at 3.0% compared to 2012 but an improvement over 2012 growth of 1.3%. The economy is showing some positive signs: employment growth has picked up, as has consumer spending.
Middle East airlines recorded the strongest increase in passenger traffic in 2013, a rise of 12.1% compared to 2012, but below the 15.4% growth recorded in 2012 compared to 2011. Carriers in the region have benefitted from the continued strength of regional economies, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and solid growth in business-related premium travel, particularly to developing markets such as Africa.
Latin American carriers posted an 8.1% rise in demand in 2013 over 2012, down slightly compared to the 8.4% rise in 2012. This was the second-strongest performance (after the Middle East) and was supported by the healthy expansion of economies like Colombia, Peru and Chile.
African airlines’ demand rose 5.5%, slightly above the global average but below 2012 growth of 7.5%. Overall, the demand environment is strong, with robust economic growth of local economies and continued development of internationally trading industries. But some parts of the continent have shown weakness including South Africa, which recently experienced a slowdown in its economy, with a corresponding impact on the demand base for international air travel.
COMMERCIAL AVIATION’S BIG BIRTHDAY
As previously reported, commercial aviation is celebrating its first century in 2014. ”What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment of today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelievable.” With these words, Percival Fansler, creator of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, inaugurated the era of commercial aviation on 1 January 1914.
“Fansler was right,” said Tyler [pictured left]. “The first century of commercial aviation has changed the world. It has made it a better place through connectivity. Forward-looking governments recognize the power of aviation to drive economic growth and spread prosperity.
“These governments are laying the foundations for our next century and in doing so will reap enormous benefits. But not all governments are on the same page. This anniversary year is an opportunity to remind short-sighted governments that they risk being left behind if they cripple aviation with taxes, over-burden it with onerous regulation, or fail to provide the infrastructure that it needs to grow.”