Global passenger traffic growth slowed in March: IATA

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Continuing political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, combined with the effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, led to slow growth in passenger air transport in March, according to IATA.

Announcing its latest monthly traffic statistics, the organisation also warned that these factors were likely to continue to depress air travel in the second quarter of 2011, although underlying economic growth was likely to see a stronger second half to the year.

Scheduled international passenger growth in March was 3.8%, down from February's figure of 5.8%. Cargo growth, however, jumped to 3.7% in March, up from February's 1.8%.

The Japanese natural disaster knocked 1% off international traffic figures, and Japanese domestic traffic slumped 22% in the month. The Middle East troubles accounted for a further 0.9% drop in international airline growth, with Egypt and Tunisia experiencing drops of up to 25% in air traffic.

Capacity adjustments lagged behind these sudden drops in demand. Against March's global demand growth of 3.8%, capacity expanded by 8.6%, leading to a fall in load factors from 78.1% to 74.6%.

The effect of the high price of fuel on air transport remained uncertain, with premium traffic continuing to recover strongly, while leisure traffic was being affected by growth in ticket prices, said IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani.

"Even in the $120 a barrel range, it appears that strong economic growth in markets outside of Europe is continuing," he said.

"We see this in the strong demand from business for premium travel, which maintained 7.7% growth through February. But many leisure travellers are putting off flying because of the impact of high oil prices.

"The fragility of the situation is demonstrated by the considerably weaker 3.3% year-on-year growth in economy class travel in February. And, despite efficiency gains, the industry's 1.4% profit margin leaves it vulnerable in the face of volatile markets."