Global air travel has had a rip-roaring start to the Year of the Rooster with passenger demand growth in January hitting a five-year high and pushing aircraft load factors above 80 per cent.A boost from Lunar New Year celebrations saw January demand 9.6 per cent higher than a year ago with Asia Pacific carriers recording an increase of 10.9 per cent on January, 2016.The International Air Transport Association estimated that holiday traffic contributed up to 0.5 per percentage points to a result that still signalled a robust start to the year. January global capacity growth of 8 per cent lagged demand growth to see load factors climb 1.2 points to 80.2 per cent.“2017 is off to a very strong start, with demand at levels not seen since 2011,’’ said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “This is supported by the upturn in the global economic cycle and a return to a more normal environment after the terrorism and political ‘shock’ events seen in early 2016.” International passenger traffic surged 9.3 per cent in January compared to a year ago, while capacity rose 7.5 per cent to see the average load factor hit 80.3 per cent.Planes were even fuller in the Asia-Pacific, where the load factor rose 1.5 percentage points to 81.4 per cent, but carriers in the region are still reporting intense competition that is keeping a lid on ticket prices.Strong growth of 8.3 per cent was also reported in Europe against “a backdrop of moderate momentum in the Eurozone community”.Middle East carriers reported the strongest growth of 14.4 per cent with load factors rising against the year-ago period for the third consecutive month to hit 79.8 per cent.Latin American passenger demand rose 8.2 per cent with carriers in the region recording the highest load factor 83.7 per cent, while Africa was up 5.6 per cent.North American airlines experienced the slowest demand growth of 3.2 per cent and the load factor for the region was flat at 80.3 per cent. “Traffic on the transpacific market has continued to trend upwards but North Atlantic traffic growth has weakened since the middle of 2016, reflecting softer demand on UK-US routes,’’ IATA said,Global domestic air travel climbed 9.9 per cent in January with India and China both posting huge increases.India posted its 15th consecutive month of growth above 20 per cent to lead the field with a 26.6 per cent increase on the back of strong flight frequency.China’s domestic traffic growth of 23.2 per cent was its strongest monthly figure since June, 2010.“The timing of the Lunar New year affected the results but ongoing robust expansion in the services sector as well as increasing flight frequency are boosting demand,’’ the report said.Countries with low or negative domestic growth included Brazil (-2 per cent) and Australia (1.1 per cent).
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