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IATA: Passenger traffic strongest in Middle East

Global air travel grew by 6 percent in March from a year earlier, led by emerging markets, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
During the same month, capacity grew by just 3.5 percent, meaning that there were generally fewer empty seats.
Growth in passenger traffic was strongest in the Middle East, IATA said.
According to IATA, Middle East carriers experienced the strongest traffic growth for any region at 15.6 percent year-over-year, with a 14.2 percent rise in capacity that boosted load factor one percentage point to 79.7 percent. While a smaller share of international air travel (13.4 percent) they have carried about 20 percent of the increase in demand over the past six months.
“Strong demand for air travel is consistent with improving business conditions. Performance, however, has been uneven. Mature markets are seeing relatively little growth while emerging markets continue to show a robust expansion,” said IATA Chief Executive Tony Tyler.
“Although oil prices have softened in recent weeks, they remain high against historical averages. In view of this, airlines are responding with a very cautious approach to capacity management,” he said.
In 2013, the Easter holidays occurred in March as opposed to April last year, stoking demand for flights, IATA said.
But while the recovery in air travel seems intact with growth increasing every month of this year, growth has stalled in the air cargo market.
IATA said earlier that global air freight traffic — seen as a short-term leading indicator of economic growth — fell in March versus the previous year on lower demand from Asian Pacific carriers.
Asia-Pacific carriers’ traffic rose 5.4 percent in March compared to the same month last year. Strong growth in the Chinese market as well as an improvement in Asia trade since the 2012 fourth quarter have supported increased demand. Half of the growth in international traffic since October has been carried by Asia-Pacific carriers. Capacity rose 3.4 percent year to year and load factor climbed 1.5 percentage points to 79.0 percent. Compared to February, traffic rose 0.8 percent.
European carriers recorded 3.7 percent growth on international services compared to March 2012. However, the trend for international travel on European airlines has been largely flat since October 2012, reflecting persisting weakness in the Eurozone economy and recent downward revisions to growth expectations for 2013. Nearly flat capacity growth of 0.4 percent helped propel load factor 2.6 percentage points to 81.2 percent, second highest among regions.
North American airlines’ international traffic rose 2.4 percent year-on-year in March (after rising just 0.3 percent in February). This was the slowest rise among the regions, in part owing to a 0.9 percent reduction in capacity. Load factor rose 2.6 percentage points to 83 percent, the highest for any region. Although the underlying growth trend has been improving for several months, recent months have seen considerable volatility in the data and some indication of weakness. The ongoing cuts in US federal spending (sequestration) could eventually impact economic growth and ultimately consumer spending.
African airlines’ traffic climbed 8.2 percent in March, while capacity rose 5.7 percent, pushing load factor up to 67.8 percent, still the lowest for any region. Although traffic declined 1.1 percent compared to February, the region is seeing solid growth.
“Business confidence levels continue to foreshadow an economic upturn. It is important that governments avoid placing roadblocks to recovery. The flight delays and cancelations inflicted on air travelers to, from and within the US owing to sequestration-related budget cuts had the potential to inflict real damage to the economy if they had been permitted to continue,” said Tyler.

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