International air traffic slowed down in 2019, with Revenue per Kilometers up ‘only’ 4.2 percent compared to +7.3 percent in 2018, IATA announced on February 6. Not since the 2009 financial crisis traffic growth has been below 5.5 percent, making last year an exceptional one.

IATA blames the reduction on the weakening of the economy and related international trade tensions plus a combination of political and geopolitical tensions. Still, capacity grew by 3.4 percent with load factors reaching a record-high average of 82.6 percent. What makes this even more remarkable is that Boeing-customers managed to absorb the grounding of some 400 MAX without capacity suffering that much.

The highest growth was surprisingly in Africa, where RPKs were up 4.9 percent, down from 6.3 in 2018. Capacity grew by 4.7.
Asia-Pacific recorded 4.8 percent RPK-growth and capacity at 4.5 percent, but significantly lower than the 8.5 percent higher RPK in 2018. Uncertainties over the US-China trade tensions are to blame for the reduction in this specific region.
Domestic traffic in China looked promising at +7.8 percent but actually was the lowest since 2009. In India, RPK’s grew by just 5.1 percent compared to 18.9 percent in 2018. Australia saw RPK increase by 0.1 percent.

Europe and Latin America each witnessed 4.2 percent higher RPKs. This was down from 7.5 percent in 2018 in Europe as the economy slowed down, Brexit influenced customer behavior and those willing to fly often found their flights canceled due to numerous strikes. A load factor of 85.6 percent is the highest of all regions. Russia performed well at +6.7 percent, down from 7.1.
Latin America was dominated by social and political unrest that especially hurt international traffic, RPK’s down from 7.5 to 3.0 percent. RPK in Brazil grew by just 0.4 percent.

A weaker economy and lower business confidence reduced RPK-growth in North America to 4.1 percent, down from 5.0 the previous year. Capacity/ASKs were up 2.8 percent. Domestic traffic was stronger than international.

The Middle East, once a region of double-digit growth, recorded the lowest RPK increase of just 2.4 percent, down from an already unusually low 4.9 percent in 2018. A change was seen in Q4 and RPKs were highest in December of any region at 6.4 percent. Average capacity increased by just 0.1 percent with load factors at 76.2 percent.

“2019 was a difficult year for aviation and 2020 is off to a tragic and challenging beginning”, IATA concludes in its review. With the effects of the coronavirus crisis deepening by the day, we are likely in for a year with even lower RPK and ASK-growth.

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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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