Middle Eastern airlines saw annual traffic growth rates more than double those of their Asia-Pacific rivals in January, adding to evidence of a shift in power to the Gulf carrier's and their hubs.
Middle East carriers saw traffic rise by 14.5% in January compared to the same period for the previous year. This more than matched a 10.6% increase in capacity and saw load factors rise 2.7 points to 78.5%.
"This was by far the largest rate of growth for any region and represents a return to the rates experienced in 2010," noted IATA.
Asia-Pacific carriers. meanwhile, saw traffic rise 6% over the same period, below a 6.4% increase in capacity. As a result, load factors dipped slightly to 77.5%. However, the figures received a significant boost from the early timing of Chinese New Year.
Asia-Pacific carriers also saw a steep 14% decline in cargo traffic against January 2011 - although this is largely explained by the Chinese New Year factory shutdown. Even so, Middle East carriers were again outpacing the Asia-Pacific carriers, with a 9.4% rise in demand.
IATA said that the fourth quarter of 2011 marked the end in the decline in the freight markets, which had experienced a tough year. Overall, January figures showed an 8.1% decline in international freight, partly due to the Chinese holiday period. IATA says a 2.5% drop in freight demand from December 2011 to January this year is almost entirely down to the Chinese New Year shutdown. Global freight volumes are running at around 4% below 2008 peak levels.
Freight capacity contracted by 0.6% year over year, and freight load factor fell to 41% (from 44.3% in January 2011) as deliveries of new widebody passenger aircraft offset measures to reduce freight capacity, says IATA.
The impact of Chinese New Year-related passenger traffic was evidenced in China’s domestic market, which surged 16.8% year over year on a 14.3% lift in capacity, pushing load factor to 80.8%, the highest recorded for domestic traffic. On a seasonally adjusted basis, traffic rose 3.2% compared to December. The Chinese market now accounts for more than 21% of the total global domestic market.
Japan's traffic was 8.9% below previous year levels, slightly more than the 8.3% contraction in capacity. Year to year comparisons are affected by the impact of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as industry restructuring.
India traffic rose 8.8% year over year, while capacity expanded 12.8% and load factor was 74.9%. Demand rose 0.9% compared to December.
Global IATA traffic results for January showed a 5.7% rise in passenger demand but an 8.0% decline in air freight compared to the same month in 2011 - IATA says both trends were exaggerated by the Chinese New Year falling early.
Total January passenger demand rose 5.7% compared to January 2011 a slight acceleration from the 5.6% year over year increase recorded for December 2011. With January passenger capacity up 4.2%, average load factor rose 1.1 percentage points to 76.6% compared to the same month a year ago.
“The year started with some hopeful news on business confidence. It appears that freight markets have stabilized, albeit at weak levels. And this is having a positive impact on business-related travel. However, airlines face two big risks: rising oil prices and Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Both are hanging over the industry’s fortunes like the sword of Damocles,” said IATA’s director general and CEO Tony Tyler.