IATA warns of air travel slump


THE umbrella group representing the world’s international airlines has warned that a global aviation slowdown might have begun after traffic statistics for January showed a sharp fall on previous months.

The International Air Transport Association said a 4.3 per cent growth in international passenger demand for January was sharply down on the 6.7 per cent growth in December and the 7.4 per cent for 2007.

It said international cargo demand remained sluggish with January’s 4.5 per cent growth largely unchanged on the December figure of 4.7 per cent.

The IATA had been warning for some time that it expected growth to slow in 2008 but said yesterday that January’s figures showed the industry could be at a turning point.

“A month’s data is not enough to define a trend. However, the sharp shift in demand-growth patterns makes it clear that the US credit crunch is negatively impacting air travel,” IATA director-general Giovanni Bisignani said.

“Fasten your seat belts. There is likely to be turbulence ahead.”

The good news for Asia-Pacific carriers is that the drop in demand in this region for January was marginal — down from 6.2 per cent in December to 5.7 per cent. The IATA said Asia-Pacific carriers benefited from increased competitiveness due to a strong euro as well as the booming economies of China and India.

But it was a glum result for Europe, which recorded the weakest growth of all regions and the biggest fall from 5.5 per cent in December to just 0.3 per cent in January.

North American carriers recorded 5 per cent growth in international passenger traffic, down from 6 per cent in December. The IATA said this was helped by increased competitiveness due to a weak US dollar.

Middle Eastern carriers recorded a 7.4 per cent increase in passenger traffic for the month but this was less than half the 2007 figure of 18.1 per cent.

The IATA attributed this to a slower growth in capacity rather than a change in the region’s oil-driven upward growth trend.

Latin American carriers continued to see a sharp recovery on the back of strong economies and continued restructuring.