World air traffic growth slows down in first half of 2007

International airline passenger traffic and cargo shipments grew at a slower pace in the first half of 2007, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said. IATA, which represents more than 240 airlines, said Middle East departures and arrivals grew by nearly 18 per cent in the first half of 2007, from January to June, which helped to pump up worldwide passenger traffic by 6.3 per cent from a year ago. In the first half of 2006, worldwide passenger air traffic had climbed by 6.7 per cent.

To meet the rising demand, West Asian airlines such as Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, and the Dubai-based Emirates have started new routes and given multibillion-dollar orders for new aircraft to Boeing and Airbus. Worldwide, airlines will buy around 1,800 new planes over the next 18 months. The biggest buyers are Asian carriers, which are scrambling to meet rapidly rising demand from China and India.

IATA's midyear report, which measures passenger demand by revenue per kilometre flown, also said that flights to and from Africa shot up by 9.9 per cent from January to June 2007 over the previous year, as flights increased from Asian and Middle Eastern cities. Asia, which reported a 6 per cent increase in passenger traffic, also showed strong growth.

Worldwide, international flights reported an average load factor or occupancy level of nearly 76 per cent for January to June 2007, up just 0.6 per cent from the first half of last year. Growth in air cargo shipments also slowed down. International cargo shipments increased by 2.7 per cent over the first half of last year. In the first half of 2006, cargo traffic was up 5.2 per cent from the previous year.

Falling shipments to Africa and Latin America, and a sluggish 0.4 per cent increase in North American shipments hampered cargo results for the first half of this year. Middle Eastern cargo shipments were up by 11 per cent.

The association has increased its profit forecast for the airline industry as a whole to more than $5 billion, up from an earlier forecast of $3.8 billion. Economic growth in Asia and Europe has led to increased passenger traffic, particularly in business travel to Asia.