Middle East airlines see slower passenger demand, slowest among all region
Passenger demand in the Middle East grew slower than the global average in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Full-year global passenger traffic results for 2019 showed that demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose by 4.2 per cent in 2019, while Middle Eastern airlines' passenger demand increased 2.6 per cent, the slowest pace of expansion among all regions and down from 4.9 per cent growth in 2018. However, demand in the Middle East began to recover in the fourth quarter and the monthly growth of 6.4 per cent in December led all regions. Annual capacity climbed 0.1 per cent and load factor surged 1.8 percentage points to 76.3 per cent.
The 2019 result is a slowdown compared to 2018's annual growth of 7.3 per cent and marked the first year since the global financial crisis in 2009 with passenger demand below the long-term trend of around 5.5 per cent annual growth. Full-year 2019 capacity climbed 3.4 per cent, and the load factor rose 0.7 percentage point to a record high of 82.6 per cent. The previous high was 81.9 per cent set in 2018.
"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. 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," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director General and CEO.
Asia-Pacific airlines' full-year traffic increased 4.5 per cent in 2019, which was a large decline compared to 8.5 per cent growth in 2018. This reflected the impact of the US-China trade war as well as weakening business confidence and economic activity. Capacity rose 4.1 per cent, and load factor ticked up 0.3 percentage point to 80.9 per cent.
European carriers saw a 4.4 per cent traffic rise in 2019, which was down from 7.5 per cent annual growth in 2018. North American airlines saw traffic growth slow to 3.9 per cent last year, down from 5.0 per cent in 2018, amid softer US economic activity and weaker business confidence compared to 2018. Capacity climbed 2.2 per cent, and load factor strengthened 1.3 percentage points to 84.0 per cent, second highest among the regions.
Latin American airlines' traffic climbed 3.0 per cent in 2019, a dramatic slowdown compared to 7.5 per cent annual growth in 2018. Capacity rose 1.6 per cent and load factor increased by 1.1 percentage points to 82.9 per cent. The year was impacted by social unrest and economic difficulties in a number of countries in the region.
African airlines led all regions with a 5.0 per cent demand increase, down from 6.3 per cent growth recorded for 2018. Capacity rose 4.5 per cent, and load factor edged up 0.3 percentage point to 71.3 per cent. Airlines in the region benefitted from a generally supportive economic backdrop in 2019 as well as increases in air transport connectivity.
De Juniac said that the headlines are also focused on the coronavirus outbreak.
"From our experience of past outbreaks, airlines have well-developed standards and best practices to keep travel safe. And airlines are assisting the World Health Organization (WHO) and public health authorities in efforts to contain the outbreak in line with the International Health Regulations. There currently is no advice from WHO to restrict travel or trade. 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," he said.
Iata said that global air freight markets showed that demand fell by 3.3 per cent compared to 2018 while capacity rose by 2.1 per cent. This was the first year of declining freight volumes since 2012, and the weakest performance since the global financial crisis in 2009, when air freight markets contracted by 9.7 per cent.
Middle Eastern carriers' freight volumes decreased 3.4 per cent year-on-year in December and capacity increased by just 1.9 per cent, the lowest of any region. This contributed to an annual result of a decline in demand of 4.8 per cent in 2019 - the second greatest decline in growth rate of all the regions. Annual capacity increased just 0.7 per cent. Disruption to global supply chains and weak global trade, together with airline restructuring in the region, were the chief drivers of the weaker freight outcome.
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