Business and premium travel trends continue to point to steady improvement, but the latest data released by IATA show premium travel is still roughly 16% below previous highs.

Statistics for February indicate the number of passengers travelling in business an first class grew 5.9% year-over-year as economy passenger levels increased 6.9%.

Despite premium traffic remaining below highs reached in early 2008, IATA believes the declines appear to be cyclical rather than a structural, permanent loss.

"As world trade growth returned so has premium travel," says IATA.

The declines in economy travel were not as severe as the decreases in premium travel, and IATA estimates passenger levels for economy travel are 3% below previous highs.

A large driver in the recovery in economy travel is business class customers opting to travel in the economy cabin. IATA explains that consumer confidence in the USA and Europe remains weak while trends in Asia point to more positive consumer behaviour.

"The pattern of economy travel has been much more closely linked to drivers of business travel in the past two years," the association explains.

Recovery continues to be strongest within Far East markets, says IATA. Trends also show South American premium travel is strong and travel across the South Pacific has been expanding at a rate of 20%.

IATA says European economies fell back into a decline at the end of 2009 while the US economy generated 5% economic growth. However, that was mostly stock building, which benefitted freight growth rather than resulting in an improvement in passenger markets.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news