ANALYSIS: Easter timing hits European airline traffic in April

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European airline passenger traffic was up a little over 2% in April and load factor down nearly one and a half points as the different timing of Easter and restructuring efforts impact the figures.

Traffic across more than 20 European operators was 2.4% higher in carrying just short of 40 million passengers in April  Traffic for many carriers was hit by the different timing of Easter this year, meaning the stronger leisure traffic demand fell in late March rather than in April last year.

The different timing of Easter also contributed to passenger load factor falling almost across the board as only Swiss and Transavia, of carriers reporting RPK/ASK numbers, increased seat factors in April over the same month last year. Overall load factors for European carriers in April were 1.4% lower than the same month last year at 78.8%.

europe traffic may 13 
 Source: Flightglobal Pro

In some cases this reflected a change of emphasis among carriers. For example load factor was down at International Airlines Group carriers Iberia and British Airways, as the group cites "a policy to improve until revenues through yield, rather than load".

Indeed IAG chief executive Willie Walsh noted in the group's first quarter results conference call, that there was tighter capacity discipline being shown in the market, not least in Spain where it has been cut sharply at Madrid Barajas against the backdrop of a slow economy and increased airport fees. "You are not seeing anyone trying to fill the capacity reduction there," says Walsh. "People are much more focused on unit revenue and yield - then capacity and market share - than they had been."

Traffic is also much reduced at a number of Europe's restructuring operators, including Iberia. Passenger traffic as measured in RPKs was down almost a fifth at the Spanish carrier, for example, which has cut capacity sharply as part of its restructuring. Austrian and Air Berlin similarly have cut back capacity as part of attempts to improve profitability.

There remain however some fast expanding carriers in Europe in April, notably Transaero in Russia and low-cost carriers Norwegian and Vueling.