Passenger demand accelerates in March, load factor sets another record
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced global passenger traffic results for March 2018 showing that demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometers, or RPKs) rose 9.5 percent, compared to the same month a year ago, the fastest pace in 12 months. Capacity (available seat kilometers, or ASKs) grew 6.4 percent and load factor climbed 2.3 percentage points to 82.4 percent, which set a record for the month, following on the record set in February. All regions except for the Middle East posted record load factors.
“Demand for air travel remains strong, supported by the comparatively healthy economic backdrop and business confidence levels. But rising cost inputs—particularly fuel prices—suggest that any demand boosts from lower fares will moderate going into the second quarter,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
International Passenger Markets
March international passenger demand rose 10.6 percent compared to March 2017, which was up from 7.4 percent year-over-year growth recorded in February. All regions showed strong increases. Total capacity climbed 6.6 percent, and load factor improved 2.9 percentage points to 81.5 percent.
- Asia-Pacific airlines’ traffic soared 11.6 percent in March, compared to the year-ago period. Passenger traffic is continuing to trend upwards, supported by strong regional economic growth and ongoing expansion in the number of airport-pair options for travelers. Capacity increased 8.2 percent, and load factor rose 2.5 percentage points to 80.9 percent.
- European carriers saw March traffic climb 9.8 percent over March 2017, up from 6.9 percent annual growth in February. Business confidence in the most-open countries in the region has been hit by trade tensions in recent months, but economic conditions remain broadly supportive. As with Asia-Pacific region, demand is also being stimulated by increases in the number of nonstop airport-pairs. March capacity rose 6.4 percent and load factor was up 2.6 percentage points to 84.6 percent, highest among regions.
- Middle East carriers’ traffic jumped 10.7 percent in March, much improved from the 4.1 percent year-over-year increase recorded in February. This reflects healthy growth in the market between the Middle East and Asia. Demand also shows signs of stabilization on Middle East to North America routes, following the disruption caused in the first half of 2017 by the now-lifted ban on large portable electronic devices, as well as a wider impact stemming from the proposed travel restrictions to the US. Capacity increased 4.3 percent, and load factor jumped 4.4 percentage points to 76.7 percent.
- North American airlines posted a 9.5 percent traffic rise in March compared to the year-ago period, well above the 5-year average growth rate of 3.6 percent. Capacity climbed 4.9 percent and load factor was up 3.5 percentage points to 83.5 percent, which was the second highest among the regions. The weakening US dollar is having a positive effect on inbound traffic, while the comparatively robust domestic economic backdrop is supporting outbound demand.
- Latin American airlines had an 11.8 percent increase in March traffic, which was the largest increase among the regions for a third month in a row. March capacity climbed 10.0 percent compared to a year ago, and load factor edged up 1.3 percentage points to 81.8 percent. Traffic continues to recover from the disruptions caused by the harsh hurricane season in the third quarter of 2017, driven in part by economic recovery in Brazil.
- African airlines continued to enjoy very strong demand as well, with traffic up 11.2 percent compared to March 2017, which was more than twice the 5-year average pace of 4.8 percent. Airlines here are seeing healthy growth on routes to/from Europe and Asia, while the region’s two largest economies—Nigeria and South Africa—continue to improve. Capacity climbed 6.7 percent, and load factor strengthened 2.9 percentage points to 71.0 percent.
Domestic Passenger Markets
Domestic demand rose 7.8 percent in March, which was a slight deceleration from 8.2 percent growth recorded in February, driven primarily by developments in the US market. Domestic capacity climbed 6.2 percent, and load factor lifted 1.3 percentage points to 84.0 percent.
- US domestic growth slowed to 4.7 percent in March, compared to 6.1 percent year-over-year growth recorded in February. This had been anticipated and relates more to traffic trends last year than to any specific weakening in the US market.
- China’s domestic traffic grew 15 percent in March compared to the year-ago period. This was the strongest pace in five months and is being supported by growth in the services sector.
The Bottom line
“The strong first quarter provides healthy momentum heading into the peak travel period in the Northern Hemisphere. Benign economic conditions are supporting—and being supported by—good demand for air travel. It’s a mutually-beneficial effect that smart governments recognize and encourage, by embracing affordable, quality aviation infrastructure and reasonable commercial regulation. But we need to deliver that message every day. The setback to modernizing air traffic management in the US, and a proposal to stop construction of the new airport in Mexico, are reminders of that fact,” said de Juniac.