Air travel slump accelerates

March 26, 2009

, GENEVA, Mar 26 – The sharp decline in air travel accelerated in February as global passenger volumes nosedived 10.1 percent below levels recorded a year earlier, the airline industry association IATA said Thursday.

The double-digit fall in passenger demand was almost twice that of the 5.6 percent decline recorded for January, the latest data from the International Air Transport Association showed.

Airlines were unable to cut their capacity fast enough to keep up with the slump.

"The 5.9 percent reduction in capacity — the most aggressive since the crisis began — could not keep pace with the fall in demand," IATA said in a statement.

Freight traffic fell by 22.1 percent in February, in line with falls in December and January.

"Freight traffic, which began its decline in June 2008 before passenger markets were hit, has now had three consecutive months in the minus 22 to minus 23 percent range," IATA added.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA\’s director general, said: "We may have found a bottom to the freight decline, but the magnitude of the drop means that it will take time to recover."

But even as freight traffic stabilises, airlines are now feeling the squeeze in passenger traffic.

Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region posted the sharpest fall in demand, 12.8 percent, as export-dependent economies cut back on business and leisure travel, particular those to long-haul destinations.

Capacity cuts of 7.8 percent were unable to make up for the drop in demand in the region, said IATA.

North American carriers posted a 12.0 percent drop, while European carriers saw traffic plunge 10.1 percent.

Latin American airlines lost 3.8 percent in passnger traffic, but that was closely compensated by cuts in capacity of 2.4 percent.

Only Middle Eastern carriers bucked the trend with a rise of 0.4 percent in international traffic.

IATA on Tuesday sharply increased its loss forecast for airlines to 4.7 billion dollars in 2009, saying it was set to be "one of the toughest years" that the sector has faced.

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