2010 first half traffic: Glass half full or half empty?

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Traffic figures at the midway point illustrate both how fast passengers have been returning in some parts of the world and the different pace of recovery across the regions.

Far eastern carriers, in particular those in China, have continued the improvement seen in the last quarter of 2009 with a strong traffic growth over the first six months. Of the 11 Asia-Pacific carriers in this sample, all but Air New Zealand increased traffic in RPK terms in the first half - and the latter carrier itself reported a near 6% rise in June passenger traffic. Growth has been seen across the board in Asia, but China Eastern - bolstered by its merger with Shanghai Airlines - China Southern and Air China enjoyed robust growth of 38%, 22% and 19% respectively.

Latin America, a growth spot even during the crisis, has been similarly strong during the first half, while low-cost carriers lead growth rates in the more mature North American and Europe markets. But network carriers in North America and European generally increased first half passenger traffic levels only slightly or saw further small declines.

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The fall and rise of airline traffic, read the analysis from our recent World Airline Rankings issue here

While the traffic recovery may be two-paced, there is a more unified picture when it comes to load factors. All but a handful of the near 50 airlines in this sample increased load factors. The brighter picture was still more pronounced in Asia, as improved traffic demand outstripped additional capacity, resulting in a strong pick-up in load factors. European and North American network carriers virtually all reported improved load factors for the first half, the exceptions being a negligible decline at US Airways and strike-impacted British Airways.

The trend line is clearly evident in IATA's June traffic figures, which show passenger traffic up 12% over the same month last year and freight levels up more than a quarter. But the two-speed recovery remains as Asian carrier passenger traffic growth rates are almost double those seen in Europe. "The question is how long can the industry maintain the double-digit momentum," says IATA director general, Giovanni Bisignani. "Business confidence remains high and there is no indication that the recovery will stall any time soon. But, with government stimulus packages tailing off and restocking largely completed, we do expect some slowing over the months ahead."