Global passenger traffic demand rose at a healthy rate in 2018 despite volatile fuel prices, the uncertainty created by Brexit and US-China trade tensions.
According to figures released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) increased by 6.5 percent last year, compared with 2017. Although this represented a slowdown compared to the 2017 annual growth of 8.0 percent, it was another year of above-trend growth.
Full year 2018 capacity climbed 6.1 percent, and load factor edged up 0.3 percentage point to a record 81.9 percent, exceeding the previous high set in 2017.
“2018 was another year of strong passenger demand, as aviation continued to support the global economy. We expect similar, if somewhat moderating performance in 2019,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and chief executive.
International passenger traffic in 2018 climbed 6.3 percent compared to 2017, down from 8.6 percent annual growth the year before. Capacity rose 5.7 percent and load factor climbed by 0.4 percentage point to 81.2.
Asia-Pacific recorded the largest year-on-year increase in international traffic, rising by 7.3 percent compared to 2017. However, this represented a slowdown from the 10.5 percent growth in 2017.
European carriers’ international traffic climbed 6.6 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, which was down from 9.4 percent growth the year before. Capacity rose 5.9 percent and load factor increased 0.6 percentage point to 85.0 percent, which was the highest for any region.
North American airlines had their fastest demand growth since 2011, with full-year traffic rising 5.0 percent compared to 2017, an increase from 4.7 percent annual growth in 2017.
Middle East carriers’ traffic increased 4.2 percent last year, down from 6.9 percent growth in 2017, while African airlines saw 2018 traffic rise 6.5 percent compared to 2017, which was an increase compared to 6.0 percent annual growth in 2017.
Latin American airlines’ traffic climbed 6.9 percent in 2018, a slowdown compared to 8.8 percent annual growth in 2017. Capacity rose 7.7 percent and load factor dipped 0.6 percentage point to 81.8 percent. IATA said traffic was affected by the mid-year general strikes in Brazil as well as by political and economic developments in some of the region’s other key economies.
IATA’s figures for domestic travel showed demand climbed 7.0 percent last year, which was unchanged from the rate in 2017. All markets showed annual growth, led by India and China.
India’s domestic market posted the fastest full-year domestic growth rate for the fourth consecutive year, with an 18.6 percent annual demand increase.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.