IATA reports surprising growth of air travel, lifted by Asia

International air travel grew faster than expected in June led by a sharp improvement in Asia, airline association IATA said on Wednesday.

Passenger volumes returned to a level one to two percent above the pre-recession peak in the first quarter of 2008, the International Air Transport Association said in its monthly account of air travel.

Passenger demand in Europe nonetheless lagged behind the global increase of 11.9 percent year-on-year in June.

"The industry continues to recover faster than expected, but with sharp regional differences," said IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani.

"Europe is recovering at half the speed of Asia with passenger growth of 7.8 percent compared to the 15.5 percent growth in Asia-Pacific," he added.

China drove growth in the Asia Pacific region, which recorded the most significant improvement in demand last month.

All other regions recorded double-digit growth, including Africa which was buoyed by a 21 percent increase in air travel that IATA attributed to the World Cup in South Africa.

Middle Eastern carriers posted 18 percent growth as their hubs serviced travel between Europe and Asia.

International air travel grew steadily by 10.8 percent in North America, helping to fuel strong second quarter financial results at US airlines.

But Bisignani heralded a likely decline in the pace of global growth underway this year.

"Business confidence remains high and there is no indication that the recovery will stall any time soon."

"But, with government stimulus packages tailing off and restocking largely completed, we do expect some slowing over the months ahead," he added.

Air freight grew by 26.5 percent in June, tailing off from growth of 34 percent a month earlier that was artificially boosted by additional cargo that had been delayed by the volcanic ash cloud over the Atlantic and Europe in April.

Nonetheless air cargo traffic was still tracking the general economic recovery, IATA said.

Bisignani pointed to orders for hundreds of new airliners announced by Airbus, Boeing and Embraer at the Farnborough Air Show last week as grounds for cautious optimism in the industry.

"This is good news that will bring environmental benefits through improved fuel efficiency. But it will also make the challenge of matching capacity to demand much more difficult," said Bisignani.

IATA has repeatedly warned of the difficulty airlines face in matching the size of their fleets and the optimum load each aircraft carries with sharp fluctuations in air travel demand.

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