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Non-stop US services bypassing Europe as gateway to Asia and Africa

21-Sep-2010

US Government statistics show that shifting travel patterns are emerging, as more direct services provide new points of connection for travellers. The most dramatic gains are seen in the Middle East and Africa, where non-stop flights have proliferated in recent years, providing new connecting hubs and draining traffic from traditional European routings.

Those who visit the US will be familiar with the I-94, a US government document filled out on arrival and used to track the entry and exit of foreign nationals. When visitors leave, the completed forms are removed from the passport by the first international carrier as a record of departure. The statistical data recorded on the form is then processed.

The I-94 records the first destination after departure from the US, as the collected forms are submitted by the airline and sorted by flight and destination. The data presented in the chart below does not reflect the passengers' final destination or nationality, but rather where their first international flight landed. Consequently, if two passengers board a BA flight to London, one destined for Lagos and the other Mumbai, the record will show London for both, and be added to the Europe column.

I-94 5+ year travel data

 

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

                     

1-4/30

Regions

05 Total

% +/-

06 Total

% +/-

07 Total

% +/-

08 Total

% +/-

09 Total

% +/-

% +/-

Europe

12,552,629

3%

12,995,893

4%

13,329,777

3.3%

12,505,627

-6.2%

11,979,018

-4.2%

-6.7%

Caribbean

5,397,458

4%

5,780,787

7%

5,649,454

-1.6%

5,686,838

0.7%

5,530,518

-2.7%

4.6%

Asia

4,815,618

10%

5,207,977

8%

5,603,444

8.2%

5,514,987

-1.6%

5,287,649

-4.1%

9.0%

South America

2,180,777

10%

2,317,921

6%

2,463,366

7.0%

2,546,511

3.4%

2,573,688

1.1%

-1.0%

Central America

2,300,179

10%

2,371,223

3%

2,560,991

8.7%

2,588,064

1.1%

2,532,059

-2.2%

-3.5%

Oceania

782,907

1%

828,799

6%

824,163

0.8%

767,836

-6.8%

787,872

2.6%

14.3%

Middle East

554,031

13%

478,282

-14%

591,592

24.9%

858,952

45.2%

1,210,650

40.9%

35.2%

Africa

203,867

1%

167,490

-18%

205,173

23.7%

319,713

55.8%

398,970

24.8%

18.0%

Total Overseas

28,787,466

5%

30,148,372

5%

31,227,960

4.3%

30,788,528

-1.4%

30,300,424

-1.6%

1.7%

Mexico

5,672,740

9%

5,747,999

1%

5,799,865

1.8%

5,889,363

1.5%

5,263,604

-10.6%

-2.5%

Canada

3,912,198

0%

3,861,639

-1%

3,770,453

-2.9%

3,581,759

-5.0%

3,280,273

-8.4%

4.9%

Grand Total

38,372,404

5%

39,758,010

4%

40,798,278

3.2%

40,259,650

-1.3%

38,844,301

-3.5%

1.3%

What can be discerned from the data is a shift in travel patterns as more direct services provide new points of connection for travellers. The most dramatic gains are seen in the Middle East and Africa where non-stop flights have proliferated in recent years, providing new connecting hubs and draining traffic from traditional European routings.

Some regions static

The Caribbean, Central America, South America and Oceania have fluctuated but not gained appreciably since 2005, especially the Caribbean and Central America. This is probably due to relatively stable seat offers and the fact that neither region is overflowing with connections or new service that would divert end-destination traffic via a hub in one of those regions. Most connections, if made, would take travellers to other regional points; for instance, a connection at San Juan for Barbados or Panama for Costa Rica.

That could change as both COPA and TACA have built networks to facilitate such connections but the majority of those are more directed towards capturing outbound traffic to points in South America rather than with the goal of capturing through traffic from the US.

Generally, global traffic to/from South America is showing steady increases but these have yet to appear in the form of more visitors to the US. Increased security and the need for visas, even while only in transit, has also depressed connecting traffic that previously transited US gateways.

Oceania is showing strong percentage growth in 2010, largely due to increased service and the resultant pricing. However, it will take a sustained double-digit increase throughout 2010 to exceed the 2006 figure.

New direct services and hub offerings enhance Middle East gateways

The effect of the Gulf carriers, in particular, is immediately evident. In 2005, their presence was very limited, but expansion has more than doubled the number of passengers connecting in the region for destinations in Africa, Asia and other points in the Middle East. Networks now include distant points like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston, making single connection journeys feasible to a great many more customers. The growth for 2010 is in excess of 35% and new services continue to be added. Emirates will soon begin twice daily to Los Angeles. These flights are capturing travellers to points such as India which previously routed via Asia or Europe.

Africa, too, is seeing a resurgence, as more direct services are launched. In 2005 only SAA, Ethiopian and Royal Air Maroc flew direct to Africa. However, Delta now serves a number of cities non-stop from New York and Atlanta, and United has recently commenced service to Accra. The numbers direct to Africa will doubtless continue to increase.

Asian hubs fight to hold market shares

Asian hub gateways have had a difficult few years. There have been health scares, an economic downturn and a diversion of traffic via Gulf hubs. Nonetheless, the region is now the world’s largest aviation market and signs of recovery have boosted traffic in 2010 almost equalling 2005’s high. Should the often-promised but yet-to-be realised non-stop service to India actually emerge, the regional boardings would benefit, probably to the detriment of the Gulf carriers. Other new services, granted but not yet operated – such as United’s SFO/CAN and US Airways’ PHL/BJS – will also ensure the region’s continued position.

Europeans hub roles diminish

A combination of economics and alternative routes has significantly dented Europe's numbers. Last year recorded the lowest figure and the downward trend has continued into 2010. The strengthening dollar, along with weak economies in the EU, have all likely taken a toll on those crossing “the pond”. Europe has lost, as well, its position as being virtually the only conduit for traffic to Africa, the Middle East and West Asia.

This drop comes despite the fact that many carriers have actually increased seats to Europe in the past half-decade. Using B757s, US carriers have begun a umber of routes to secondary cities and their European counterparts have added flights. This bodes well for US/Europe traffic but will not boost onwards passengers who have found other routes.

 New aircraft mean more direct flights

With the pending introduction of the B787 and A350 and their long-thin route economics, more destinations will be served by direct flights. This trend will continue to have an exceptional impact on Europe as even more passengers choose direct flights or travel via non-European hubs.

It is also very likely to affect Europe from other markets as well, with Emirates already diverting some South American traffic with its Sao Paulo non-stop. Europe has no doubt seen the apex of its role as the gateway to Africa and Asia, with more of those BA, AF and LH flights being used by EU citizens rather than intercontinental connecting passengers.

And the US, with its unpopular visa and security restrictions, will continue to be bypassed by foreigners who refuse to deal with the complex and onerous processes inherent in a US transit.


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