Air Transport World

Another 'worst year ever.' (1991 World Airline Report) (Industry Overview)

The Gulf War and its aftermath, slumping economies in key areas of the globe and general uncertainties in two of the world's three major airline economic sectors, the U.S. and Europe, all combined to produce another dismal year for the world's airlines.

The war began in earnest in January, 1991. The tensions associated with such a conflict lasted well past the first quarter, one of the worst in many years, and along the way, it brought on one of the worst years on record for airline performance. The war had a lot of help from the general economic recession in the U.S., which actually began in the second half of 1989 and only now is beginning to offer hints that better things could be ahead.

American Airlines Chairman Robert Crandall said: "The only good thing you can say about 1991 is that it's over." Japan Airlines' managing director, international passenger marketing, Mitsuo Ando, put it another way: "Operation Desert Storm was rapidly followed by Operation Deserting Passenger."

There is no question that the first quarter of 1991 was devastating for airlines, especially on int'l routes. North Atlantic passenger boardings fell 33.9% for U.S. airlines in the first quarter, compared with the same 1990 period. RPKs fell 22.3%. In the same quarter, European airlines' North Atlantic passenger traffic fell 9.3%, 5.9% for the year.

In another part of the world, JAL's RPKs fell 39.3% in February and 33.1% in March, and did not recover to a positive figure until September. Most of the traffic losses were in int'l markets. Air India's RPKs dropped over 20% in every month from January through May. In Europe, meanwhile, the Association of European Airlines (AEA) reported that its members' int'l RPKs fell 14.2% in the first quarter, with no appreciable recovery until the fourth. Overall decline for the year was 5.5% on all of their int'l routes. Carriers in the Middle East, of course, were hardest hit of all. Saudia's traffic fell 47.5% in January and 67.7% in February, and didn't show any gain until August.

ICAO, whose 164 member states host nearly all of the world's airlines, reports that preliminary traffic results for 1991 show the first overall annual traffic decline since the organization began keeping records in the 1940s. One ICAO official says his records show that the last decline, discounting the World War II years, was 1929, the year of the world economic depression.

In any case, ICAO's data show declines in all categories of scheduled airline traffic for the year. Passenger boardings were down 3% to 1.125 billion, revenue passenger kilometers and freight tonne-kilometers were both down 4%. …

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