IATA's May 2009 figures suggest signs of cargo recovery

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Air cargo traffic showed its first sign of recovery in May but remains more than 17% down on the same month last year, latest figures released by IATA show.

IATA data shows air freight 17.4% down on the corresponding month last year. This compares with cargo declines in excess of 20% since December. Air freight for the year to date is running 21.3% down on the same stage last year.

"This is one of the first physical signs of the economic recovery being anticipated in equity markets," IATA says. It adds that significant recovery is not expected in the near term, but surveys of purchasing managers indicate air freight levels during June and July could improve to around 12-15% down on 2008.

Passengers numbers for May were down 9.3% over the same month last year. While deeper than the 3.1% decline seen in April - figures distorted by public holiday effects - IATA points to both months being stronger than the 11% fall in March. "This indicates a floor may now have been reached," says the association.

But airlines have failed to cut capacity in line with the pace of lower demand, leading to a fall of more than three points in passenger load factor, to 71.2%.

IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani warns: "We may have hit bottom, but we are a long way from recovery. Capacity is not aligned with demand."

The impact on revenue is "dramatic", he says, estimating that the drop in international passenger revenue "accelerated" to as much as 30% in May.

"This crisis is the worst we have ever seen," says Bisignani.

May's figures show the first full month of impact from the outbreak of swine influenza. IATA estimates this resulted in a 1% drop in global passenger traffic. Load factors were hit particularly hard among Latin American carriers, falling nearly seven points to 64.7% as traffic dropped by 9%.

North American passenger traffic was down 11%, reflecting weak demand to Latin American destinations as a result of the flu concerns, as well as recession-driven drops in the transatlantic and transpacific markets.

Asia-Pacific traffic fell 14%, against a 9% cut in capacity. European network carriers experienced weak long-haul markets and lost some market share to low-cost rivals.

Click here to read more about the mood of the industry at the recent IATA AGM in Kuala Lumpur

Click here to see our video interviews from the IATA AGM