Press Releases

Passenger Traffic Ends the Year Strong as Air Freight Shows Signs of a Revival

Montréal, 11 February 2014 – Global passenger traffic ended the year strong with year-over-year growth of over 6% for the month of December. This represents the month with the highest growth over a twelve month period. Both international and domestic traffic performed above the annualized average achieving growth rates of 6.6% and 6.2% respectively. For the year as a whole, 2013 saw passenger traffic increase by 4%. This growth in air travel occurs in a year that was riddled with economic challenges ranging from the cyclical slowdown in emerging markets to the lingering economic uncertainties in the euro area and the United States.

Air freight volumes increased by over 3% for the month of December. Despite a global economy that remained sluggish for most of 2013, air freight markets still inched up by 1% in 2013 as compared to 2012. On an annualized basis, international freight traffic increased by 0.9% whereas domestic freight increased by 1.2% on the year. With an overall rise in business confidence coupled with the recent improvements in international trade, the recent rise in air freight volumes signals a potential revival.

Regional Markets: Passengers

African passenger traffic continues to show signs of weakness. A slight decline of 0.6% was reported for Africa’s major airports in 2013. Egyptian airports continue to experience the brunt of political and social unrest as several of the country’s major airports experienced double digit declines. Cairo (CAI), North Africa’s busiest airport and gateway to popular tourist destinations, experienced a decline of 11.4% in passenger numbers for December. Nevertheless, other Northern African airports such as Algiers (ALG) and Casablanca (CMN) experienced strong growth of 8.4% and 8.1% respectively for the month. Johannesburg (JNB), Africa’s busiest airport, ended the year with 3.6% gains in December although its annualized growth was 0.5%.

The Asia-Pacific airports reported overall growth of 6.4% in passenger traffic for the month of December. Annualized growth in passenger traffic for 2013 was over 7%. Many of the regions airports are experiencing slowing growth as a result of a cyclical slowdown in markets such as China. Beijing (PEK) grew by 2.2% in 2013, which is much lower than the yearly double digit growth rates that it posted before 2011. While domestic traffic is significant in markets such as Japan and China, international passenger traffic was a driving force behind the gains for the Asia-Pacific region. International traffic grew by over 8% in 2013 for the region.

Despite the economic uncertainties that persisted in the euro area throughout 2013, the region ended the year on a positive note with passenger traffic rising by 5.3% in December. Overall traffic in 2013 increased modestly by 2.6%. Except for the peripheral countries of the euro area, most of the major airports recovered from the weak traffic figures that persisted throughout the year. Of the top ten airports in Europe, only Madrid (MAD), Spain’s busiest airport, and Rome (FCO) saw traffic drop by 12.1% and 2.2% respectively in 2013. At the other end of the spectrum, Turkish and Russian airports posted robust growth figures for 2013. Istanbul (IST) grew by 13.6% and the Moscow airports (SVO, DME) posted growth rates of 11.7% and 9.2% respectively on the year.

Latin America-Caribbean:
The Latin American-Caribbean was one of the regions that experienced the highest growth in passenger traffic in December. With gains of over 10% for the region in December, the increases in traffic are largely attributed to Brazil’s burgeoning domestic market. In particular, the three major Brazilian airports of Sao Paulo (GRU and CGH) and Brasilia (BSB) all experienced double digit gains of 19.3%, 12.8% and 35.3% respectively in December. The region observed a growth of 4.8% in passenger traffic in 2013.

Middle East:
The Middle East continues to achieve the highest growth among all regions for the month of December at over 10% for the month of December and for the year as a whole. Double digit growth rates continue to persist for airports across the region. Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH) grew by 15.2% and 12.4% respectively. Preliminary traffic rankings for 2013 reveal that DXB has moved up to the seventh busiest airport in the world.

North America:
While growth in North America remains at relatively modest levels, it was a banner month for passenger traffic with a growth of 6.6% for the month of December. This represents an above average month for North America since year-over-year growth for 2013 was 1.3%. While many North American airports ended the year strong with robust growth rates in passenger traffic, Atlanta (ATL), the world’s busiest airport actually contracted by 1.1% in 2013. Although the airport experienced an increase of 4.1% in international passenger traffic, its huge domestic market declined 1.7%.

Regional Markets: Air Freight

The African air freight market was in decline for the month of December by 5.4%. Freight volumes were in decline for most of the year with an overall decline of 2.7% for 2013 as a whole. Johannesburg (JNB), the highest ranking airport in terms of air freight in Africa, had a drop of 5.4% in freight volumes in 2013. As a major air freight hub that handles a significant proportion of Africa’s global freight volume, JNB’s decline contributed to the overall continental decline.

Growth in air freight volumes in the Asia-Pacific region was relatively mixed with an aggregate level increase of 3.4% in December. The top global air freight hub, Hong Kong (HKG), had a slight decline of 0.3%. Shanghai (PVG) and Incheon (ICN) had year-over-year increases of 10.1% and 3.5% respectively. This is in stark contrast to previous months where growth was much lower or even in negative territory. Nevertheless, overall traffic only inched up by 0.9% in 2013 with five of the top 10 airports posting declines on the year.

European air freight markets appear to be in recovery mode as higher growth levels were achieved in 2013. European air traffic grew by 3.4% in December. Although certain major airports experienced an annualized decrease in air freight volumes based on accumulated traffic for 2013, there was an overall net gain in volumes. Whereas Frankfurt (FRA) and Amsterdam (AMS) led the pack as air freight volumes grew by 1.5% and 3.2% respectively, air freight figures for Paris (CDG) were actually in decline by 4% in 2013.

Latin America-Caribbean:
The figures were relatively mixed for Latin America-Caribbean for the month of December. Air freight volumes increased by only 0.6%. Sao Paulo (GRU), the regions’ major freight hub, contracted by 9.9% whereas Mexico (MEX) had a year-over-year increase in total air freight of 2.6% in December. Looking back on 2013, total freight traffic was flat as compared to 2012. In total, 11 of the region’s top 20 airports were in decline in 2013.

Middle East:
With Dubai (DXB) occupying the lion’s share of air freight traffic in the Middle East region at over 2.4 million metric tonnes, the overall regional growth rate is directly affected by freight activity at this airport. The region as a whole grew by over 5% in 2013. While other major airports faced declines in freight traffic, Dubai (DXB) posted a gain of 7.4% on the year. Abu Dhabi, the third ranked airport in terms of freight volume, reported double digit gains gain of 24.4% in freight traffic.

North America:
The higher growth in North America for the last quarter points towards a recovery. Air freight volumes grew by 2.9% in December. This is above the 2013 annualized growth, which was almost flat at 0.5% over 2012. Two of North America’s leading air freight hubs posted gains in freight volumes for 2013. Memphis (MEM) and Louisville (SDF), home of FedEx and UPS, increased by 3% and 2.5% respectively.

ACI World’s Economics Director Rafael Echevarne commented, “As we end the year with a strong December, it is important to highlight the resilience of global passenger traffic in 2013. While there were fears that growth would become more subdued, preliminary figures still point to year-over-year growth in passenger traffic that is in the vicinity of 3.5% to 4.0%, which is formidable considering the economic environment. Nonetheless, as international traffic remained relatively strong, domestic travel was curtailed mainly because of economic challenges in European and North American markets. Both domestic freight and domestic passenger traffic were sluggish in these markets. The weak domestic market is reflective of the on-going downside risks in the euro area and United States. Partly fuelled by emerging markets, world output (GDP) grew by 3% in 2013. Based on the January update of the IMF World Economic Outlook, advanced economies grew by 1.3% in 2013 with the United States and euro area posting growth of 1.9% and -0.4% respectively. Nevertheless, recovery and higher GDP growth is anticipated in both regions and this will have a positive impact on air transport demand going forward into 2014. Despite a low figure, it was encouraging to end the year in positive territory for world freight traffic. ”

December 2013 over December 2012 Year to Date 2013 12-Month Rolling Year
International Passenger 6.6 5.2 5.2
Domestic Passenger 6.2 2.7 2.7
Total Passenger 6.4 3.9 3.9
International Freight 2.5 0.9 0.9
Domestic Freight 4.4 1.2 1.2
Total Freight 3.2 1.0 1.0


Notes for Editors

Airports Council International (ACI), the only worldwide association of airports, has 592 member airport authorities, which operate over 1,847 airports in 174 countries. ACI’s mission is to promote professional excellence in airport management and operations, and this mandate is carried out through the organization’s multiple training opportunities, as well as the customer service benchmarking programme, a wide range of conferences, industry statistical products and best practice publications.

PaxFlash and FreightFlash statistics are based on a significant sample of airports that provide regular monthly reports to ACI. They represent approximately 60% of total passenger traffic and 70% of total freight traffic worldwide. Commentary, tables and charts are based on preliminary data submitted by participating airports and are therefore subject to change.

Regional results and trend graphics are provided in the pdf download of this media release.

Media Contact

Martine Ohayon
Director, Communications and Events
T: +1 514 373 1224

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