Middle East passenger traffic grew 23.4% in Feb – IATA

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A latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) report released on Tuesday suggested Middle Eastern airlines registered a 23.4% increase in passengers during February compared to the same period the previous year as carriers have started to recover from the impact of the Arab uprisings.

Capacity growth for regional carriers hit 16.1% during the month, the global industry body said in its monthly round up on worldwide air traffic.

IATA said in its report that the year-on-year passenger volume increase in the region was “distorted by the poor performance in February 2011”, the month when political unrest across the Middle East began gaining momentum.

However, IATA emphasised that ‘the region has now fully recovered’ from the impact of the Arab Spring.

Regional airlines suffered the most by the uprisings that erupted across the Middle East last year and toppled leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

In November, Emirates reported a 76% slump in first half net profit for 2011 due to rising fuel costs and political unrest.

Similarly, Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia blamed a 26% drop in Q3 profits in November thanks to regional turmoil.

Global Assessment

The IATA report for February showed that global passenger traffic rose 8.6% while overall cargo demand increased 5.2%. However, IATA warned that overall outlook for the aviation industry remained bleak due to rising fuel costs and weak economic conditions.

“The outlook is fragile. Improvements in business confidence slowed in February. This will limit the potential for business class travel growth and it implies that an uptick for cargo is not imminent,” Tony Tyler, director general of IATA, said in a statement.

“At the same time, airlines trying to recoup rising fuel costs could risk reduced volumes on price sensitive market segments. Weak economic conditions and rising fuel costs are a double-whammy that an industry anticipating a 0.5 percent margin can ill-afford,” he added.

Last month, the industry body revised its profit forecast for Middle Eastern carriers from US$300m to US$500m, in line with the worldwide trend as fuel costs impact the industry. IATA insisted the financial performance of Middle Eastern airlines was already better than previously expected in 2011.

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