No let-up in early February traffic figures

Further signs of how tough it is right now in the premium traffic sector as British Airways today disclosed its premium traffic was down a fifth in February compared to the same month last year. Direct comparison though is distorted due to the impact of heavy snow in the UK south east last month causing several flight cancellations and by 2008 being a leap year, meaning an additional day in February last year (worth around 3.5%).

Overall the fall in passenger traffic of 8.3% was in line with the 9% reduced capacity in February, meaning its passenger load factor was fractionally higher than the same month last year at 72%. But notably while non-premium traffic was down 5.5% in RPKs, BA’s key premium traffic fell 20.2% compared to February 08.

No let-up on cargo either. December and January saw heavy drops in air-freight figures across the industry. For BA, cargo, measured in CTKs, was down more than a fifth. This compared to a near 17% fall for the carrier in January.

BA says market conditions remain “challenging but broadly in line with previous expectations”. It comes after BA chief Willie Walsh yesterday issued a stark warning on the likely impact of the recession.

Other early reporting European traffic stats for the month out today come from Ryanair. It reported a 7% increase in passenger numbers for February to 4.13 million - rare single-digit growth for the Irish carrier given its usual double-digit monthly growth rate. This reflects the carrier’s relatively scaled back capacity growth this winter – monthly passengers numbers have been growing around 11% in recent months after it grounded aircraft predominantly at Stansted and Dublin compared to 18% for 2008 overall - together with February having one less day this year and the snow impact. Ryanair load factor for the month though was up three points in February to 78%

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