Global air passenger traffic increased an overall 9.6% in January compared to a year ago, the fastest growth rate since April 2011 and the strongest yearly start since 2005, according to IATA’s January Air Passenger Market Analysis.

Overall capacity was up 8% compared to January 2016; the total air passenger market load factor (PLF) for the month was 80.2%, up 1.4 points from a year ago.

IATA senior economist David Oxley said the pick-up in passengers “reflected a combination of passengers adjusting to the multiple terrorism and political ‘shock’ events seen in early 2016 as well as an upturn in the global economic cycle.” The month’s passenger surge was also likely fueled by the Lunar New Year, which occurred in January this year as opposed to its February occurrence in 2015.

Combined world traffic on domestic routes grew 9.9% year-over-year (YOY) in January, compared to 6.8% growth in January 2016. Capacity on the world’s domestic routes was up 8.7% YOY; the PLF for domestic travel was 80.1%, up 1.2 points over January 2016.

India led domestic travel growth for the 22d consecutive month in January with a 26.6% YOY increase. China showed 23.2% YOY passenger growth in January, its fastest pace since June 2010 and helped by the Chinese New Year. Oxley noted that flight frequencies in both China and India are expected to rise substantially in 2017. Domestic traffic in Russia saw a 15.4% rise in January, coming “alongside ongoing signs that the country’s economic recession has eased … and the rouble has recovered strongly against the dollar,” Oxley said. Domestic traffic in both Japan and the US was up 3.5% during the month, Australia’s domestic traffic was up 1.1% and Brazil’s domestic traffic decreased 2% YOY in January.

Global international passenger traffic was up 9.3% in January as all regions recorded YOY increases in demand. International capacity was up 7.5% YOY and the international traffic PLF was 80.3%, compared to 78.8% growth in January 2016.

Middle East carriers had the fastest passenger growth in January, posting a 14.4% YOY increase, followed by passenger traffic on Asia-Pacific carriers, up 10.9% YOY. International passenger traffic on European carriers was up 8.3% in January, slowing somewhat from 10.7% growth in December 2016. International passenger traffic on Latin American carriers was up 8.2% during the month, and African carriers saw 5.6% YOY growth in international passenger volumes.

For North American carriers, international passenger traffic increased 3.4% in January, with capacity up 3.1%, the international PLF at 80.3%, unchanged from January 2016. “The seasonally adjusted trend in both traffic and capacity for North American carriers has flattened off since the middle of 2016,” Oxley said. “Traffic on the transpacific market has continued to trend upwards, but the seasonally adjusted trend on the North Atlantic market has weakened … in keeping with a modest moderation in momentum on the UK-US market since June.”

Oxley noted that any impact of US President Donald Trump’s travel ban, and the extent to which it is deterring travel to the US, will become apparent in forthcoming month’s data.

Mark Nensel