Figures compiled for IATA examining premium travel for the month of March and the first quarter of 2010 show that despite a recent impressive increase in premium traffic, both volumes and yields remain below levels achieved prior to the global economic downturn.

The association estimates in the first quarter of this year international premium travel volumes increased 7.8% year-over-year, and 10.8% in March.

"However, despite faster recent growth, premium travel volumes were still some 15% below their pre-recession levels," says IATA.

The number of international passengers travelling in economy also improved during the first quarter, growing 7.4% year-over-year, and improving 8.8% in the month of March.

Business travel demand is driving the growth in both international premium and economy travel, says IATA. The association highlights a trend of recovering business confidence and improving world trade as the drivers in the growth of business travel.

However, IATA warns that "consumer confidence has not recovered in the same way as business confidence".

The markets showing the strongest growth in premium traffic are within the Far East, as IATA statistics show a 24% increase in premium travellers in the region during the first quarter.

Demand within Europe is much weaker as premium demand fell 3.1% during the first quarter.

IATA's estimates of a 5.5% increase in premium travel across the North Atlantic for the first three months of 2009, mirroring comments made by executives of US network carriers during first quarter earnings discussions that premium traffic in those markets is improving. However, economy travel in those markets grew 2.4% in the quarter.

South America continues to show strong growth as premium travel within the region grew more than 20% during the first quarter, and economy travel increased 10%.

The latest data from IATA show yields have improved from mid-2009 levels, but "have not yet recovered the ground lost during the recession to the same extent as travel demand".

But IATA does highlight by the end of the first quarter premium yields had grown 10%, and as a result premium revenues are showing some significant growth.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news