IATA Reports Slower But Steady Growth For Full-Year 2019

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

Alexandre de Juniac

International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that full-year global passenger traffic rose by 4.2% compared to the full year of 2018.

The 2019 result is a slowdown compared to 2018’s annual growth of 7.3% and marked the first year since the global financial crisis in 2009 with passenger demand below the long-term trend of around 5.5% annual growth. 

But airlines are better than ever when it comes to filling seats. Full-year 2019 capacity climbed 3.4%, and the load factor rose 0.7 percentage point to a record high of 82.6%. The previous high was 81.9% set the year before.

December 2019 RPKs (revenue passenger kilometres) increased 4.5% against the same month in 2018. That was an improvement over the 3.3% annual growth recorded in November, primarily due to solid demand in North America.

“Airlines did well to maintain steady growth last year in the face of a number of challenges. A softer economic backdrop, weak global trade activity, and political and geopolitical tensions took their toll on demand,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

“Astute capacity management, and the effects of the 737 MAX grounding, contributed to another record load factor, helping the industry to manage through weaker demand and improving environmental performance,” de Juniac added.

2019 international passenger traffic climbed 4.1% compared to 2018, down from 7.1% annual growth the year before. Capacity rose 3.0% and load factor edged up 0.8 percentage point to 82.0%. Domestic air travel climbed 4.5% in 2019, down from 7.8% in 2018.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ full-year traffic increased 4.5% in 2019, which was a large decline compared to 8.5% growth in 2018. This reflected the impact of the US-China trade war as well as weakening business confidence and economic activity.

European carriers saw a 4.4% traffic rise in 2019, which was down from 7.5% annual growth in 2018. Capacity rose 3.7% and load factor increased 0.6 percentage point to 85.6%, which was the highest for any region. The lowered results are attributable to generally slowing economic activity; declining business confidence, compounded by industrial disputes (strikes); Brexit uncertainty and the collapse of a number of airlines.

North American airlines saw traffic growth slow to 3.9% last year, down from 5.0% in 2018, amid softer U.S. economic activity and weaker business confidence compared to 2018. Capacity climbed 2.2%, and load factor strengthened 1.3 percentage points to 84.0%, second highest among the regions.  

De Juniac noted that “2019 was a difficult year for aviation and 2020 is off to a tragic and challenging beginning.” He specifically noted Iran’s shooting down of PS752 in JAN as an “inexcusable” event.

“Commercial aircraft are instruments of peace, not military targets. To honour the victims of this tragedy we must address this challenge with governments and stakeholders. Our thoughts are also with the injured, and the families of those who lost their lives, in the PC2193 accident in Turkey. Safety is the aviation industry’s number one priority and we are united in our desire to understand and learn from the circumstances of this tragedy.”   

IATA also discussed the impact of the current novel coronavirus outbreak on the aviation industry.

“From our experience of past outbreaks, airlines have well-developed standards and best practices to keep travel safe. But it is clear that demand has fallen on routes associated with China, and airlines are responding to this by cutting capacity for both domestic and international China. The situation is evolving fast, but we are observing significant schedules adjustments for February.” said de Juniac.

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.