The US Air Transport Association of America (ATA) is forecasting a 1.5% increase in summer travel aboard US carriers over 2010 levels in spite of near-record fuel prices, but traffic still remains considerably below pre-recession levels even as international travel climbs to new highs.
ATA expects 2.24 million passengers will fly daily aboard US airlines this summer, up 34,000 passengers per day from 2010, transporting 206.2 million fliers from June through August.
While up slightly over the previous year, the market has not yet recovered from the 2007 peak levels when 217.6 million passengers flew on US carriers during the summer season. ATA said 192.4 million passengers flew domestically in 2007 compared to the 180 million expected to fly within the US in summer 2011.
Summer load factors are expected to drop to the "low 80s" says ATA, the third year straight with capacity growth outstripping demand, down from 85.1% in 2010 and 86.0% in 2009.
The association estimates average domestic fares this summer at $316.27, up from $314.46 in 2000.
Despite the sluggish recovery of US domestic traffic, international travel is expected to climb for the fourth year running, eclipsing the 25.8 million passengers flown internationally in 2010 with 26.3 million expected to fly this summer.
Airlines face near record fuel prices, said ATA chief economist John Heimlich, with fuel bills for US carriers up 30% in the first quarter of 2011, the levels since the third quarter of 2008.
The US fleet has shrunk by nearly 1,000 aircraft after a decade of consolidation, economic recession, the threat of terrorism and other exogenous shocks to the fragile industry, reducing the yearly fuel usage from more than 75.7 billion litres (20 billion gal) down to 66.2 billion litres over the past decade.
Even with this reduction in absolute fuel consumption, said Heimlich, fuel bills have climbed from $15 billion to $50 billion per year, now accounting for $0.33 of every dollar spent by US carriers, compared to $0.26 spent worldwide in 2010.