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Sep-2009 traffic “confirmed green shoots”: ACI

ACI International Director General, Angela Gittens
ACI International Director General, Angela Gittens

Global airport passenger traffic showed positive signs of improvement in Sep-2009, with the stabilisation trend of the past two months being maintained in the month, according to Airports Council International (ACI).

According to ACI World Director General, Angela Gittens, “the downward trend began to ease in the second quarter and now in the fourth quarter we are seeing growth. We are not just seeing “less worse” results, but some clear signs of new growth in selected domestic markets”.

She added, “the flattening of the trend curve is a good sign. It may signal a sustained trend since domestic traffic is often a precursor to international traffic recovery.”

Traffic in Sep-2009 has, however, come off a negative base in Sep-2008, whereas monthly reports in 1H2009 came off a positive 2008 base.

ACI total passenger number growth: Sep-2008 to Sep-2009

Domestic and global passenger growth in Sep-2009; international passenger growth remains depressed

According to ACI, overall domestic passenger traffic rose by 4.4% worldwide in Sep-2009, for three consecutive months of positive growth, while total global passenger traffic rose by 1.6% in Sep-2009, with ACI adding that “certain national markets are registering real growth relative to September 2008”.

International passenger traffic, however, remained depressed in the month, down 1.1% year-on-year, although this reduction is an improvement over the 2.2% decline in Aug-2009, and the 3.4% decline in Jul-2009. 

Middle East remains resilient, Asia Pacific back to growth 

During Sep-2009, the Middle East was again the standout performer, even growing off a positive base in Sep-2008. Middle East total passenger numbers grew 13.3% in the month, with growth of 14.3% internationally, to be the only region with double-digit international growth in the month. Asia Pacific airports also reported growth in the month, up 6.1% year-on-year.

ACI Airports Middle East international passenger numbers growth: Sep-2008 to Sep-2009

Emerging markets “leading the global upswing”; Europe and North America remain “virtually flat”

ACI stated domestic traffic results in China, Brazil and India are “leading the global upswing”, with the Asia Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean regions dominating the Sep-2009 results, with increases in domestic traffic of 12.5% and 16.2%, respectively.

ACI added that a number of major and emerging economies expanded or returned to GDP growth in 3Q2009, which is driving the improved results, commenting that “economic stimulus programmes, stiff domestic competition and low fares are contributing to the strong results in Brazil and China”.

North America (+0.5%), Europe (-1.3%) and Africa (-0.5%) remained virtually flat in terms of domestic traffic change, with Europe also lagging internationally, down 5%.

ACI added that the domestic North American results were “promising”, with international declines also less depressed in the month (-3%).

ACI total passenger number growth by region:

Moderate” declines in freight a “pleasant surprise”, could point to a quicker-than-expected recovery

According to ACI, global freight was down 2.9% in Sep-2009, representing an “accelerating upward trend”, driven by a 3.7% improvement in domestic results, which was outpaced by a 5.8% decline in international freight.

ACI total cargo volume growth: Sep-2008 to Sep-2009

ACI added that the year-to-date slump in total freight (down 13.8% year-on-year) has been much deeper than the passenger decline, “so seeing these moderate declines comes as a pleasant surprise and may point to a quicker recovery in the freight sector than previously thought”. Again, however, these results are against negatives in the preceding year, inflating the rise.

Drivers for a potential recovery again are centered on the Asia-Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean regions. During Sep-2009, Asia-Pacific total freight performance showed a “stunning” recovery from a 28% reduction to an increase of 1.3% in Sep-2009.  The Asia Pacific was also the only region reporting positive domestic results (+16.3%) in the month.

ACI total cargo volume growth: Sep-09 vs YTD Sep-09 vs YE Sep-09

For international freight, the Middle East region was the only region seeing positive growth in the month (+0.8% year-on-year), while total freight was up in both the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, by 0.8% and 1.3%, respectively (all other regions had negative growth in the month).

Outlook: Conservative growth of 2.5% expected in 2010

Looking forward, ACI stated it forecasts a conservative growth of 2.5% in 2010, with the domestic markets to continue taking the lead (the Council has previously stated it expects global annual declines in 2009 of between -3% to -4%).

Rationalising the estimate, ACI added that “industry data illustrates that over the past 30 years airport traffic recovered relatively quickly from the impact of economic cycles and extraordinary events. In a prolonged economic downturn, the rebound may be less immediate”.

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