Air passenger numbers fell 3.5% last year

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The Independent Online

Airlines last year suffered their worst drop in passenger numbers since the end of the Second World War, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said yesterday.

The body, which represents the interests of the 230 carriers, said that passenger demand fell by 3.5 per cent in 2009, compared to a year earlier. Average load - or the extent to which planes are full - was recorded down at 75.6 per cent. Freight transport, hit by the global economic downturn, fared even worse with demand falling by 10.1 per cent.

“In terms of demand, 2009 goes into the history books as the worst year the industry has ever seen,” said IATA’s director general and chief executive Giovanni Bisignani. “We have permanently lost 2.5 years of growth in passenger markets and 3.5 per cent of growth in the freight business.”

A number of international carriers, such as JAL in Japan, Alitalia and Ireland’s Aer Lingus have struggled in the last 12 months. British Airways has seen profits fall and is now at loggerheads with unions over cost saving plans. Earlier this week, BA’s cabin crew began voting on industrial action over changes in working practices.

IATA warned that this year would be scarcely better. “Revenue improvement will be at a much slower pace than the demand growth that we are starting to see,” said Mr Bisignani. “Profitability will be even slower to recover and airlines will lose an expected $5.6bn in 2010.”

Airlines in Europe saw passenger demand drop by 5.6 per cent last year, the same level seen in North America. African airlines suffered the worst falls, with demand dropping by 6.8 per cent during 2009. IATA said that an exceptionally poor first half was largely responsible. Middle Eastern airlines enjoyed a strong 2009 with demand growing by 11.2 per cent.

Mr Bisignani also said that airlines were in no position to pay for additional security measures at airports: “Globally, airlines spend $5.9bn a year on what are essentially measures concerned with national security. That is the responsibility of governments, and they should be picking up the bill.”

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