Strong start to the year for airline passenger traffic

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Airlines enjoyed a strong start to 2014 as IATA figures show passenger traffic increased nearly 8% in January compared with the same month last year.

The 7.8% increase in passenger traffic outpaced the extra 6.8% capacity added by airlines in January, helping lift collective airline load factors nearly a point to 78.3%.

“2014 is off to a strong start, with travel demand accelerating over the healthy results achieved in 2013, in line with stronger growth in advanced economies and emerging market regions,” says IATA director general Tony Tyler.

The growth compares to the 6.6% global traffic increase IATA reported in December and the 5.2% growth seen across 2013.

January's strong growth is a little distorted by the early falling of the Chinese new year - which fell in February in 2013 - which helped lift passenger traffic growth among Asia-Pacific carriers to 8% in January.

European carriers increased traffic 6.4% reflecting the gradual improving economic picture, while North American carrier traffic rose 3.5% in January.

Middle East carriers not only led traffic growth rates - up 18% in January - but as this outpaced the 15% additional capacity, also led the way on load factor improvements. Passenger load factor among Middle East carriers climbed more than 2 percentage points to 81.1%.

"The Middle East carriers are benefitting from the strength of regional economies and solid growth in business-related premium travel, supported by the performance of internationally trading industries and key economies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," says IATA.

African carriers were the only ones to see load factor fall in January. Passenger traffic grew 2.7% - the slowest rate of growth of any of the regions - and failed to keep pace with the additional 4% capacity. Consequently passenger load factor slipped nearly a point to 68.9%. "Results could partly reflect adverse developments in some parts of the continent, including the slowdown of the South African economy as well as some moderation in trade volumes," IATA says.

The bright passenger traffic start to the year comes after IATA had earlier reported a sharp improvement in air freight traffic for January - which increased 4.5% over the same month last year.