By Emmie V. Abadilla
Global passenger traffic results for April 2019 showed that demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose by 4.3% compared to the same period last year – a “solid but not exceptional” increase due to the timing of Easter and the slowing global economy, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.
“Driven by tariffs and trade disputes, global trade is falling, and as a result, we are not seeing traffic growing at the same levels as a year ago. However, airlines are doing a very good job of managing aircraft utilization, leading to record load factors.”
April capacity (available seat kilometers or ASKs) increased by 3.6%, and load factor climbed 0.6 percentage point to 82.8%, which was a record for the month of April, surpassing last year’s record of 82.2%, according to IATA.
Regionally, Africa, Europe and Latin America posted record load factors.
Comparisons between the two months are distorted owing to the timing of the Easter holiday, which occurred on 1 April in 2018 but fell much later in the month in 2019.
April international passenger demand rose 5.1% compared to April 2018. All regions recorded year-over-year traffic increases, led by airlines in Europe. Total capacity climbed 3.8%, and load factor climbed 1.1 percentage points to 82.5%.
Asia-Pacific carriers posted a 2.9% traffic rise in April, up from 2% growth in March but well below the long-term average. Capacity climbed 3.7% and load factor dropped 0.6 percentage point to 80.8%. Asia-Pacific was the only region to experience a decline in load factor compared to the same month a year ago.
Results largely reflect the slowdown in global trade, including the impact from the China-US trade tensions on the broader region, which continue to weigh on passenger demand.
Middle East carriers saw demand rise 2.9% in April, which was a recovery from a 3.0% decline in traffic in March. Notwithstanding the monthly turnaround, in seasonally-adjusted terms the downward trend in traffic growth continues, reflecting broader structural changes affecting the industry in the region. Capacity fell 1.6% and load factor soared 3.5 percentage points to 80.5%.
North American airlines posted a 5.5% demand increase compared to April 2018, which was up from 3.2% year-over-year growth in March. A strong domestic economy, low unemployment and a strong dollar are offsetting any impacts from current trade tensions. Capacity climbed 3.2%, and load factor rose 1.8 percentage points to 82.2%.
Latin American airlines experienced a 5.2% rise in April demand compared to the same month last year, slightly up on 4.9% growth in March. Capacity increased by 4.0% and load factor edged up 0.9 percentage point to 82.8%. The strong results are occurring against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty in some key regional economies. Strong South-North traffic flows may be supporting demand growth.
European airlines’ April traffic increased 8.0% compared to the year-ago period, up from 4.9% annual growth in March. While this represented the strongest monthly growth since December, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, RPKs have only risen by 1% since November 2018, suggesting the global economic and trade backdrop – along with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit – is impacting demand. Capacity rose 6.6% and load factor surged 1.1 percentage points to 85.7%, highest among the regions.