Slower carrier traffic growth in Middle East over March, IATA reports

By Dale Benton

Carriers in the Middle East recorded a traffic growth of just 4.9 percent in March, which is significantly lower than February recorded growth.

The International Air Transport Association, which believes that the recent laptop ban on some airlines and the United Airlines incident could have had an impact, though there is no definitive proof.

In February, the Middle East traffic growth was relatively high at 9.5 percent, with a growth in the global travel demand surging high at 6.8 percent.

The region's carriers recorded robust growth on routes to and from Asia and Europe as capacity increased 9.4 per cent and load factor dropped 3.1 percentage points to 73.1 per cent.

"Slower Middle East growth in March 2017, compared to a year ago, was a considerable slowing from January and February year-over-year demand growth. This is related more to developments seen last year, while any impacts from the laptop ban will be visible from April results onward," Iata said.

Passenger traffic at Dubai International, the world's busiest airport for international passengers, rose by 7.4 per cent in the first quarter 2017 to 22.5 million from a year earlier.

Global passenger traffic results for March show that demand (measured in RPKs) rose 6.8 per cent, compared to the same month a year ago. Capacity grew 6.1 per cent and load factor climbed by half a percentage point to 80.4 per cent, which was a record for the month.

Iata said March demand growth represented a moderate slowdown relative to performance in February after adjusting for the distortion in the year-to-year comparisons owing to the extra day in February 2016.

"The imposition of the ban on large electronics in the cabin on certain routes to the US and UK occurred too late in March to have an effect on traffic figures."

"Strong traffic demand continued throughout the first quarter, supported by a combination of lower fares and a broad-based upturn in global economic conditions. The price of air travel has fallen by around 10 per cent in real terms over the past year and that has contributed to record load factors. We will have to wait another month to see the impact of the laptop ban on demand," said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata's Director General and CEO.

"The first quarter results are strong. But the last weeks have been challenging to the passenger business. The laptop ban - implemented with next to no notice, no dialogue and no coordination, is testing public confidence in how governments and industry work together to keep flying secure," said de Juniac.

He said even as rumors persist that the ban will be expanded to other airports and regions, Iata is calling on governments to work with the industry to find alternatives-to keep flying secure without such great inconvenience to our passengers.

"The video was so shocking that it would be easy for lawmakers and regulators to get caught up in this groundswell of outrage and take steps to limit overselling of flights. However, the management of overbooking has actually worked well for decades. It ensures that scarce capacity is efficiently utilized; we see that in today's record load factors. Overbooking helps airlines avoid empty seats, and that helps to keep costs-and fares-low. Governments have acknowledged that this ultimately benefits consumers. And if industry-level change is discussed, let's make sure that there is a transparent fact-based dialogue between industry and regulators. We must be careful to not risk undoing the many benefits unleashed by the competitive forces of deregulation," said de Juniac.

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