ANALYSIS: Traffic gains continue in 2013

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Global passenger traffic among the top 200 biggest carriers by RPKs grew 5.5% in 2013, the latest Airline Business/Flightglobal World Airline Rankings show.

This growth in line with historic traffic rates – is slightly ahead of the extra capacity added by these carriers over the same period. It means passenger load factor among the leading carriers moved up to 80.1%

Despite the continued tight grip on capacity among US carriers, which has helped drive improved profits for the region, US carriers continue to dominate the top end of the traffic rankings. Four of the five biggest carriers by RPKs Delta Air Lines, United-Continental, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are from the USA. All bar American reflect the recent consolidation in the country, while American's figures are separate from its new merger partner US Airways.

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Familiar faces figure among the fastest-growing carriers. Emirates now the third biggest airline in the world by RPKs grew at double-digit rates last year, as did China Eastern Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Aeroflot. Traffic fell at only four of the 25 biggest carriers by RPKs.

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At a group level, the newly merged American Airlines Group topped the rankings, just ahead of Delta. The major European airline groups – Air France-KLM, Lufthansa and the British Airways and Iberia parent IAG – close the gap on their US peers when subsidiaries are included

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Low-cost carriers continue to outpace their network rivals in terms of growth. Low-cost carriers grew traffic 9% and passenger numbers 8% in 2013. This compares with network carrier traffic growth of 5% and passengers rising 4%. Operators in the low-cost sector now account for almost a quarter of passengers carried among the leading 200 airlines.

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While it is the most profitable region, North American carriers grew traffic at the slowest rate in 2013, at just under 2%, reflecting consolidation and tight capacity. This was well below the 5.5% traffic growth across the industry last year.

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