Air Transport World

World airport report.

IATA DGAND AND CEO GIOVANNI BISIGNANI DESCRIBED 2009 as an "annus horribilis" in which airlines worldwide sustained a 14.4% drop in revenues and a $9.9 billion loss owing to the global financial crisis and economic downturn. Airports shared in the pain, although to a lesser degree, experiencing a 1.4% decrease in passenger throughput that reversed six consecutive years of growth (see Table 1). The last comparable decline occurred in 2001 when 1.7% fewer passengers used airports compared to 2000.

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Table 2

Airports in all regions are showing an increase in passengers, according to ACI. Yet there is a marked difference between the sluggish growth in the mature markets of North America and Europe and the dynamic acceleration occurring in Latin America, the Asia/ Pacific region, parts of Africa and the Middle East. Middle Eastern airlines and airports, with their growing presence in the long-haul segment, continue to outpace their peers in other regions without relying on a large home market.

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While the two downturns are similar in terms of the relative level of traffic loss, "2009 is very different from the downward spiral following Sept. 11 when the pattern was the same in all regions. World airport traffic in 2009, by contrast, was characterized by a two-tier evolution," observes Mathieu Blondel, principal at Arthur D. Little in Paris, which conducted a comprehensive analysis of airport traffic and is presenting it in cooperation with ATW for a fourth year.

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"Globally there was a decrease in traffic; however, there was not really a global crisis in 2009," he says. "The advanced economies of Europe, North America and Japan were the hardest hit by the recession ... whereas Asia, the Middle East and Latin America showed strong growth increases." Airports in Western and Central Europe and North America saw around a 5% drop in passenger traffic in 2009. Eastern Europe, Russia and CIS experienced a more dramatic fall of 7.8% after several years of above-average annual growth--11.6% in 2008, 19% in 2007 and 11.2% in 2006. Passenger traffic in Latin America and the West Indies climbed 2% last year and in the Middle East a still attractive 6.9%, although this was just half the growth rate achieved in 2008. Asia recorded the highest growth, reaching 7%.

TABLE 3

In keeping with the historic relationship between traffic and GDP, a 0.6% decline in global GDP last year resulted in a 1.4% fall in airport traffic. There were, however, some noteworthy exceptions, both negative and positive.

Table 3 World traffic/GDP growth ratio

2001-2002  -0.17
2002-2003    0.3
2003-2004    2.5
2004-2005    1.5
2005-2006    1.3
2006-2007    1.7
2007-2008    0.3
2008-2009    2.3 *

* Negative growth for both GDP and traffic.

Note: Table Made from bar graph.

Poland, which in years past easily outperformed the average, swung in the opposite direction in 2009 and posted an 8.1% decrease in throughput despite positive GDP growth owing to problems at LOT Polish Airlines, the demise of SkyEurope and a slowdown of Wizz Air's expansion in the country.

Outstanding performers were Brazil--where GDP growth was slightly negative but passenger traffic rose 13.4%--China and Turkey. Turkey's economy shrank by more than 4% yet air traffic jumped 10.1% owing to Turkish Airlines' strong international growth and the development of LCC traffic.

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The regional disparity is even more compelling in absolute figures and reveals that, for example, airports in the US handled 75.9 million fewer passengers last year than in 2008 whereas airports in mainland China handled 79.4 million more travelers. Japan's airports lost 15.3 million passengers but Brazil's gained 15.9 million.

"2009 was a bipolar airport world from several standpoints," says Vincent Bamberger, partner in charge of ADL's Aviation Practice. "The traditional rule of thumb in times of crisis is that primary hubs are more resilient than regional airports. We have seen this in 2001, in 1997 and also in 1992-93 in all regions. The situation is different in 2009. The advanced economies of Western Europe, North America, Japan [and] Oceania followed this pattern and the traffic decline at large hubs was less severe than at regional airports (Table 4). Conversely, the strong performance in Asia and Latin America was primarily driven by regional traffic in China, India and Brazil."

Table 4 2008-2009 Airport traffic growth by continent & airport type

                       WORLD  WESTERN   NORTH   ASIA/PACIFIC/  MIDDLE
                               EUROPE  AMERICA     OCEANIA      EAST

Intercontinental hubs  -1.1%   -4.4%    -4.4%        3.6%       8.0%
Secondary hubs         -3.1%   -5.9%    -4.5%        3.9%       6.5%
Regional platforms     -0.9%   -5.3%    -6.3%        9.0%       5.2%

Sources: Arthur D. Little analysis, ACI 2009 and airports data

Note: Table made from bar graph.

The aggregate 1.4% slide in airport passenger traffic in 2009 calculated by ADL is less severe than has been reported by other organizations, including Airports Council International, which put the decrease at 1.8% to 4.8 billion. This difference results from the inclusion by ADL of traffic data from a large number of regional airports, especially in China and India (see sidebar Sources and Data, Page 54).

A New World

The first six months of 2010 confirm the two-speed world that emerged in 2009 (Table 2), with airports in Europe and North America posting 1.6% and 1.3% increases respectively in passenger traffic over the year-ago period, according to data from ACI. This compares poorly to the solid and even double-digit traffic increases posted by airports in the Latin America/Caribbean (11.7%), Asia/ Pacific (13%), Africa (9.8%) and Middle East (14. …

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