IATA reported on Thursday that full-year 2019 global passenger traffic demand or revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) grew by 4.2% year-over-over year. This marks the first time that growth has slipped below the long-term trend of 5.5% since 2009.
The global airline industry faced a variety of headwinds in 2019 from softening economies and civil unrest to the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX. Carriers in Hong Kong were hit particularly hard with a precipitous drop in demand and airlines throughout the Asia-Pacific region are now grappling with uncertainty surrounding the impact of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). With this backdrop, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported slower but steady growth for 2019.
Last year, global passenger traffic demand or revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) rose 4.2% year-over-year (YoY). However, this represents a substantial slowdown compared to the 7.3% annual growth recorded in 2018 and marks the first time growth has fallen below the long-term average of 5.5% since the global financial crisis of 2019. Capacity grew 3.4% YoY and load factors increased 0.7% to a record 82.6%. Primarily due to solid demand in North America, December RPKs grew 4.5%, an increase over the 3.3% growth reported for November. In Thursday’s announcement, IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac said,
“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 manage through weaker demand and improving environmental performance.”
International passenger traffic climbed 4.1% during the year, a slowdown versus a growth of 7.1% in 2018, while capacity rose 3% and load factor improved 0.8% to 82%. The Asia-Pacific region experienced a substantial slowdown in traffic growth from 8.5% in 2018 to 4.5% in 2019, while capacity rose 4.1% and load factor increased 0.3% to 80.9%. Europe saw a slowdown in traffic growth from 7.5% in 2018 to 4.4% last year, while load factor increased 0.6% to 85.6% (the highest lead factor of any region). Traffic in the Middle East showed the lowest improvement with 2.6% growth in 2019 versus 4.9% growth in the previous year. Capacity in the region grew 0.1% and load factor improved 1.8% to 76.3%.
In North America, traffic growth slowed to 3.9% compared to 5.0% in 2018, while capacity rose 2.2% and load factor improved 1.3% to 84%. Latin American traffic growth eroded to 3% in 2019 compared to 7.5% in 2018, while capacity rose 1.6% and load factor improved 1.1% to 82.9%. Africa led the world with YoY traffic growth of 5.0%, down from 6.8% in 2018. Capacity increased 4.5% while load factor remained soft, with a marginal growth of 0.3% to 71.3%.
For 2019, domestic air travel demand grew 4.5%, down from 7.8% in the previous year. The largest YoY domestic growth occurred in Russia and China. Overall, domestic capacity increased 4.1%, while domestic load factor improved 0.4% to 83.7%.