Global air passenger traffic has grown 7% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2017, exceeding the long-run average 5.5% traffic growth rate, IATA said in its March Air Passenger Market Analysis. Adjusted for the 2016 leap year, first-quarter passenger traffic has increased 8.1% over 1Q 2016.

“The robust start to 2017 has been supported by a combination of lower yields and airfares [plus] a broad-based upturn in in global economic conditions, which has helped to drive demand for passenger travel,” IATA senior economist David Oxley said. “Air travel has continued to become cheaper relative to the price of other goods and services; the price of air travel has fallen by around 10% in real terms over the past year.”

Total market capacity grew 5.5% year-over-year (YOY) in the first quarter, and the total market passenger load factor increased 1.1 point to 80.1%. Overall, the Asia-Pacific market, with a 32.9% world share of passenger traffic, had the biggest first-quarter increase, rising 10% YOY. Passenger traffic on international routes within Asia remains solid, IATA said, and traffic on the Asia-Europe route has rebounded since the terrorism-related disruptions of early 2016. Domestic traffic within China rose 14.4% YOY in the first quarter.

Solely looking at international traffic demand in the first quarter, Middle East carriers posted the fastest rise in passenger traffic, a 9.6% increase YOY, reflected in robust growth to and from Asia and Europe, IATA said. In March, however, international passenger growth for Middle East carriers was 4.9% YOY, a slowdown from the region’s January [9.3%] and February [9.3%] YOY demand growth. “Any impact of the laptop ban on [Middle Eastern] passenger traffic will be visible from the April data downwards,” Oxley said. Overall international traffic demand has risen 7.1% in the first quarter, capacity is 5.6% ant the international passenger load factor is 79.2%, up 1.1 point YOY.

Domestic traffic growth in the first quarter was led by India, with 19.4% YOY growth, followed by domestic China (14.4%) and domestic Russia (14.4%). Domestic traffic in the US, the world’s largest domestic market, was up 2.3% during the quarter. Overall domestic traffic increased 6.7% YOY in the first quarter, with capacity up 5.2%, for a domestic passenger load factor of 81.6%, up 1.1 point YOY.

In March, total market traffic rose 6.8% YOY, capacity was up 6.1% and the passenger load factor hit its highest-ever level for the month of March, 80.4%, up 0.5 point YOY.

Latin American carriers posted the largest increase in international traffic demand in March, for only the second time in 63 months, IATA said. The region’s 9.7% YOY growth “is underpinned in part by robust international demand within South America,” Oxley said.

“The first-quarter results are strong, but the last weeks have been challenging to the passenger business,” IATA DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said, citing the laptop ban as a test to public confidence in how governments and industry work together to keep flying secure.

“We are calling on governments to work with the industry to find alternatives,” de Juniac said, “to keep flying secure without such great inconvenience to our passengers.”

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@penton.com