The 2019 result is a slowdown compared to 2018’s annual growth of 7.3% and marked the first year since the global financial crisis in 2009 with passenger demand below the long-term trend of around 5.5% annual growth. Full-year 2019 capacity climbed 3.4%, and the load factor rose 0.7 percentage point to a record high of 82.6%. The previous high was 81.9% set in 2018.
December 2019 RPKs increased 4.5% against the same month in 2018. That was an improvement over the 3.3% annual growth recorded in November, primarily due to solid demand in North America.
“Airlines did well to maintain steady growth last year in the face of a number of challenges. A softer economic backdrop, weak global trade activity, and political and geopolitical tensions took their toll on demand. Astute capacity management, and the effects of the 737 MAX grounding, contributed to another record load factor, helping the industry to manage through weaker demand and improving environmental performance,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
International Passenger Markets
2019 international passenger traffic climbed 4.1% compared to 2018, down from 7.1% annual growth the year before. Capacity rose 3.0% and load factor edged up 0.8 percentage point to 82.0%.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ full-year traffic increased 4.5% in 2019, which was a large decline compared to 8.5% growth in 2018. This reflected the impact of the US-China trade war as well as weakening business confidence and economic activity. Capacity rose 4.1%, and load factor ticked up 0.3 percentage point to 80.9%.
European carriers saw a 4.4% traffic rise in 2019, which was down from 7.5% annual growth in 2018. Capacity rose 3.7% and load factor increased 0.6 percentage point to 85.6%, which was the highest for any region. The lowered results are attributable to generally slowing economic activity; declining business confidence, compounded by industrial disputes (strikes); Brexit uncertainty and the collapse of a number of airlines.
Middle Eastern airlines’ passenger demand increased 2.6% last year, the slowest pace of expansion among all regions and down from 4.9% growth in 2018. However, demand began to recover in the fourth quarter and the monthly growth of 6.4% in December led all regions. Annual capacity climbed 0.1% and load factor surged 1.8 percentage points to 76.3%.
North American airlines saw traffic growth slow to 3.9% last year, down from 5.0% in 2018, amid softer US economic activity and weaker business confidence compared to 2018. Capacity climbed 2.2%, and load factor strengthened 1.3 percentage points to 84.0%, second highest among the regions.
Latin American airlines’ traffic climbed 3.0% in 2019, a dramatic slowdown compared to 7.5% annual growth in 2018. Capacity rose 1.6% and load factor increased by 1.1 percentage points to 82.9%. The year was impacted by social unrest and economic difficulties in a number of countries in the region.
African airlines led all regions with a 5.0% demand increase, down from 6.3% growth recorded for 2018. Capacity rose 4.5%, and load factor edged up 0.3 percentage point to 71.3%. Airlines in the region benefitted from a generally supportive economic backdrop in 2019 as well as increases in air transport connectivity.
Domestic Passenger Markets
Domestic air travel climbed 4.5% in 2019, which was down from 7.8% in 2018. All markets showed annual growth, led by China and Russia. Capacity rose 4.1% and load factor was 83.7%, up 0.4% percentage point compared to 2018.