US airlines continue overseas focus in May

NEW YORK (AFX) - Big U.S. airlines continue to focus their growth overseas, putting most of their new capacity in routes to Europe, Latin America and Asia. International capacity is growing across most big airlines, while domestic capacity is either growing more slowly or shrinking, according to airlines' May traffic reports. Fliers are taking advantage: The strongest traffic growth has been for travel overseas.

Airlines have long been talking about the need to reduce domestic capacity, hoping it would allow them to raise fares to cover persistently high fuel costs.

Delta Air Lines Inc., which is operating in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, said its international capacity in May jumped 17.3 percent year over year, led by strong growth in European routes. Among the new European flights launched last month were New York to Budapest and Atlanta to Nice, France.

Delta's domestic capacity, meanwhile, fell 18.1 percent compared with May 2005.

Delta's May traffic figures show a similar split: International revenue passenger miles grew 13.6 percent, while domestic fell 17.1 percent. A revenue passenger mile is one paying passenger flying one mile.

American Airlines reported 4.6 percent growth in its May international capacity, compared with a 1.9 percent decline in domestic. Most of the new growth went to its Pacific routes.

The company reported a 6.9 percent increase in international traffic, compared with 2.1 percent domestic growth.

Continental Airlines grew its international capacity by 20.9 percent, compared with a 4.6 percent increase in domestic capacity. Its heaviest capacity gains were for European flights.

Its international traffic grew similarly, jumping 20.9 percent, while its domestic traffic grew at a more modest 7.9 percent.

Northwest Airlines Corp., which is operating in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, pulled down its domestic capacity in May more sharply than its international.

The Minnesota-based airline reported its domestic capacity fell by 9.7 percent in May, compared with a 7.1 decline in international capacity.

US Airways also cut its domestic capacity more sharply than international: Domestic capacity in May declined 11.7 percent to international's 6.1 percent drop.

Among the big airlines, United Airlines was the anomaly. It shrank its international capacity while growing in North America in May. United does not break out domestic capacity from its North America figures.

Among low-cost carriers, who fly mostly domestically, Southwest Airlines Co. reported May traffic grew 13.7 percent on 7.1 percent capacity growth.

JetBlue Airways Corp. said its traffic rose 11.3 percent on 21.9 percent capacity growth in May.

Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc. reported traffic growth of 24.2 percent on 19 percent capacity growth.

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