Air travel in Brazil posts biggest increase in 2009


SAO PAULO – Air travel in Brazil, the largest Latin American aviation market, posted its biggest increase in five years in 2009, reflecting the country’s resilience to the worst downturn in global civil aviation in decades, the government said on Wednesday.

Air travel, as measured by the number of passengers transported per kilometer, soared 17.7 percent last year to 56.26 million from 47.81 million in 2008, the Brasilia-based civil aviation regulator ANAC said in an e-mailed statement. In 2005, air travel grew by 22 percent.

Load factor ratios, a widely used gauge to measure occupancy rates at airplanes, as well as available seats rose from 2008 despite an early tumble in the first three months in 2009 as uncertainty over the extent and duration of the global economic recession paralyzed the industry, ANAC said.

The uptick in demand might have also allowed smaller carriers to win more slots and cater to an increased base of customers, the regulatory agency added.

“Heightening competition is favorable for passengers, who have more options and can choose based on timeliness, price and other factors,” the statement added.

The industry’s load factor rose to 66.75 percent from 65.5 percent in 2008, the agency said.

Sao Paulo-based TAM remained the market’s leading airline for domestic flights with a 45.4 percent market share, down from 50.3 percent a year earlier.

Gol Linhas Aereas, Brazil’s No. 2 air carrier, lost market share last year, falling to 41 percent from about 42.4 percent in 2008. Smaller airlines, led by WebJet and Azul, had their combined market share rising to about 13 percent from 7.3 percent in 2008, according to ANAC.

The improved outlook for civil aviation in Brazil reinforces expectations that ticket fares will be hiked early in 2010 because of strong demand for regional travel and a strengthening currency that is boosting disposable income for air travel.

TAM rose 0.2 percent to 41.79 reais, and Gol ticked higher 0.2 percent to 27.6 reais, bucking a decline in Brazil’s benchmark stock index, the Bovespa.