February air traffic up worldwide

The International Air Transport
Association has announced improved air traffic results for February 2010.

Passenger demand rose by 9.5 per
cent and cargo demand by 26.5 per cent in a direct comparison with the same
month last year.

However, the association was
careful to caution that February 2009 was a particularly bad month and marked
the bottom of the cycle for passenger traffic during the global economic recession.

“Passenger
demand must recover by a further 1.4 per cent to return to pre-crisis
levels.  Cargo hit bottom in December 2008, with little improvement realised
by February 2009. Cargo traffic, which plunged much further than passenger
demand, has a further 3 per cent to recover in order to return to pre-crisis
levels,” a statement read.

February
is historically the weakest travel month, according to the international
association, which meant that the improved load factor of 75.5 per cent was a
very strong result in context.

While
demand was up by nearly 10 per cent, supply growth was 1.9 per cent. This was
because airlines maintained their normal short-haul fleet, although long-haul
is down by more than 8 per cent compared to the levels of 2008.

The
association noted that the increase in unit costs for long-haul operations
might delay the positive impact of stronger demand to the bottom line.

Statistics
for air travel to Cayman showed an increase of 2.68 per cent of passenger
arrivals during February 2010.

International
passenger demand increases refer to worldwide figures but geographically the
rebound was described as asymmetrical by the association. North American
airlines posted weak growth of 4.4 per cent and European carriers 4.3 per cent.
The strongest region in terms of growth was the Middle
East, with 25.8 per cent. New markets and successful completion on
long-haul connections to Asia through Middle
Eastern hubs have improved market share in the region.

Latin
American carriers showed growth of 8.5 per cent, which the International Air
Transport Association said was related to strong economic performance in the
region.

Cargo
upturn was least in Europe at 7.2 per cent while North American airlines
rebounded by 34.1 per cent on a year-on-year monthly comparison.  Latin American airlines posted growth of 41.9
per cent.

Open skies

Talks
on open skies between United
States and the European Union in order to
de-regulate aviation links have reached phase two. Extended co-operation on
safety and security were agreed and an in-theory Memorandum of Understanding
for further market liberalisation has been signed.

James
May, president and chief executive officer of Air Transport Association of
America, said that the agreement was visionary.

“This agreement will produce
significant new consumer benefits in the trans-Atlantic market, as the
commercial and operational freedoms it provides drive both increased competition
and more service improvements,” he said.

However, the International Air
Transport Association felt that the agreement had not gone as far as it could.

The Director General of the
association, Giovanni Bisignani, commented that while the agreement was not a
retrograde step, further discussions were essential. He said that the two sides
had missed an opportunity to give airlines much-needed commercial freedom
without limitations of what he termed outdated foreign ownership restrictions
embedded in the system.

 “Liberalisation must not fall off the agenda
as economies improve. To move forward, labour and politicians must come on
board by understanding a fundamental reality. Restrictions on ownership do not
protect jobs. On the contrary they put jobs at risk. As we are seeing with the
two-speed recovery, ownership restrictions limit growth by preventing airlines
from growing into efficient global businesses that can take advantage of global
opportunities,” said Mr. Bisignani, who added that recent strike action by
European airlines was not helpful.

“It
is disappointing to see labour at European airlines engaging in strikes when
the fragile industry needs to focus on improving efficiency and reducing
costs,” said the airline association Chief Executive Officer.

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