North Africa and Mideast turmoil dents air travel

Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East dampened growth in international air travel in February, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Tuesday.

International passenger travel grew by 6.0 percent year-on-year last month, compared to 8.4 percent in January, and the airline association predicted that the Japanese nuclear disaster would have a further impact in March.

IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani warned that those shocks were denting the industry's recovery from recession.

"As the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia spreads across the Middle East and North Africa, demand growth across the region is taking a step back," he said in a statement.

"The tragic earthquake and its aftermath in Japan will most certainly see a further dampening of demand from March," Bisignani added.

IATA estimated that the political turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries had wiped about one percent off total passenger travel in February.

"The industry fundamentals are good. But extraordinary circumstances have made the first quarter of 2011 very difficult," he explained.

Air freight grew by 2.3 percent in February compared to 8.7 percent a month earlier, a slowdown IATA partly blamed on factory shutdowns over the Chinese New Year.

IATA represents some 230 carriers that account for more than 90 percent of scheduled air traffic globally but does not include many of the big budget airlines.

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