Air traffic plummets

Global airline passenger traffic fell 18.5% in April 2003 compared with the year before, according to preliminary traffic figures from IATA. SARS-hit Asia Pacific carriers experienced a 44.8% drop.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  May 26, 2003

Global airline passenger traffic fell 18.5% in April 2003 compared with the year before, according to preliminary traffic figures from IATA. SARS-hit Asia Pacific carriers experienced a 44.8% drop.

“The unprecedented combination of crises —the War in Iraq and the SARS— has had a disastrous impact on the international air transport industry in an order of magnitude approaching that of September 11,” says Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general & CEO.

As carriers cut back on flight numbers, overall capacity fell for the first time this year, down 6.23% on the equivalent period of last year with the load factor being 63.5%. Overall RPKs for the first four months of the year fell by –2.9%, with ASKs up 4.2%.

The most serious fall in passenger traffic was experienced by the Asia-Pacific carriers, as the SARS crisis deepened. RPKs for the region’s carriers fell by an unprecedented 44.8%. With ASKs falling by 12.6%, the average load factor was only 48.0%, a fall of 28 points over April 2002.

North American carriers have also been badly affected, seeing RPKs fall by –23.5%. European carriers conversely have fared much better, seeing overall passenger traffic fall by –4.8%.

“These are dark days for our industry. The industry’s immediate tasks are to rebuild passenger confidence in air transport and reduce costs. Safety is the key concern of travellers. Since WHO-recommended screening procedures have been implemented at airports in late March, not a single case of onboard transmission of SARS has been reported. Several countries have controlled SARS and been removed from the WHO lists. We must cut through the hysteria so that travellers can make informed decisions based on facts. Since April over 150 million people have travelled on aircraft and not a single case of inflight transmission has been reported. This is a fact that travellers need to know,” says Bisignani.

“On the other hand, airlines are working hard to contain or reduce their costs. Reducing frequency, compulsory uncompensated leave and redundancies are among the emergency measures being put in place. In these difficult times, airlines are looking to their suppliers and partners to join these efforts. Many airports, particularly in Asia, have responded with charges relief in response to the industry’s crisis. Today’s figures clearly indicate the prudence of their decisions. I hope that Hong Kong (at the epicentre of the SARS outbreak) and Tokyo/Narita (the world’s most expensive airport) take careful note of their isolation in not providing meaningful support to the industry,” he adds.

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