IATA 'cautiously optimistic' after solid 2013 traffic growth

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Airlines enjoyed a 4.8% year-on-year rise in passenger demand during 2013's first half, IATA figures show.

And in the month of June, demand - as measured in revenue passenger-kilometres - grew at an even higher rate, rising 6% versus June 2012.

During this year's first six months, airlines boosted capacity 3.9%, which was 0.9 percentage points below the rise in RPKs and pushed passenger load factors up to 79%.

The June increase in RPKs was 0.4 percentage points ahead of the 5.6% rise in available seat-kilometres, resulting in a monthly load factor of 81.7%. The figure for May was 81.2%.

Describing June's growth data as "robust", IATA says that strong increases were trending across all regions but Asia-Pacific carriers were responsible for half of the increase in RPKs from May to June. "Due to the volatility of Asia-Pacific performance, it is too early to say if this acceleration marks a trend for the rest of the year," it adds.

There was reason for cheer in Europe, where the region's airlines reported a second consecutive month of solid growth (4.8%), as recessionary conditions eased. Emerging markets were again the strongest performers, with Africa seeing a 10.8% increase and the Middle East 11%.

"The half-year report for passenger markets is broadly positive," says IATA director general Tony Tyler. "There is plenty of evidence to support some cautious optimism."

He adds: "The longer-term challenge is to expand value streams to generate sustainable levels of profitability."

IATA's Airline Business Confidence index for July reports that 61.5% of respondents expect an improvement in demand. But only half (30.8%) expect any improvement in yields over the next 12 months.

Tyler warns that while June was "a positive month" for passenger markets, airlines still face some headwinds. "Growth in the BRICS economies, including China, is slowing. And oil prices remain high. The industry is still on track to make $4 per passenger this year for a global net profit of $12.7 billion. But there is little margin for error and even a small change in the second half of the year could shift the outlook significantly," he says.