Airlines fill record number of seats

Passengers on a China Southern Airlines flight
Passengers on a China Southern Airlines flight

The world’s airlines managed to fill more than 80% of their seats in the first quarter of 2017, driven by rising demand in China and India.

According to the latest data from IATA, global air traffic increased 7.0% in the January-March 2017 period, outpacing a 5.5% increase in available seat capacity.

This allowed the world’s average passenger load factor (or the number of seats filled per flight) to rise 1.1 percentage points to 80.1%. And this average climbed to 80.4% in March 2017, which was a record for the month.

The Asia Pacific region was a significant contributor to this growth, as the world’s largest aviation market outpaced the rest of the world. Airlines in the region experienced a 10.0% jump in passenger traffic and a 2.2% rise in load factor, to 81.2%, in Q1 2017.

Traffic on Asia-Europe routes recovered strongly from terrorism-related disruption in early-2016, with demand having increased at an annualised rate of 22% since November.

But the main driving force behind the Asia Pacific region’s growth was strong demand for domestic air travel in the world’s most populous countries: China and India. Airlines in India experienced a 19.4% jump in traffic and an average load factor of 86.1% in Q1 2017, while Chinese carriers achieved traffic growth of 10.2% and a load factor of 84.8%.

In China, IATA said the growth was being “underpinned by ongoing robust growth in the country’s services sector, as well as supply developments”. India meanwhile, experienced its 31st consecutive month of double-digit growth in March 2017, with airlines now offering 9% more domestic routes.

Overall, IATA’s director general & CEO said he was happy with the industry’s performance.

“Strong traffic demand continued throughout the first quarter, supported by a combination of lower fares and a broad-based upturn in global economic conditions. The price of air travel has fallen by around 10% in real terms over the past year and that has contributed to record load factors,” said Alexandre de Juniac.

Elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region, Japan’s domestic traffic growth hit a three-year high of 7.8% in March 2017, while the country’s domestic load factor hit a record 74.6%.

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