The global aviation industry carried a record 4.1 billion passengers on scheduled services in 2017, a 7.1 per cent increase over 2016, according to preliminary figures released by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
International scheduled passenger traffic expressed in terms of revenue passenger-kilometres (RPKs) grew by 8.0 per cent in 2017, up from the 7.8 per cent recorded in 2016.
Asia-Pacific had the second largest share of international RPKs at 29 per cent (+9.6 per cent), after Europe with 37 per cent share (+8.1 per cent).
North America accounted for a 13 per cent share but remained the slowest growing region with an increase of 4.9 per cent.
Carriers in Latin America and the Caribbean made up four per cent of world international RPKs and saw the biggest improvement among all regions, showing the strongest growth at 10.0 per cent; while Africa, with the smallest share of 3 per cent, grew slightly faster than last year at 7.6 per cent.
The only region that experienced RPK slowdown was the Middle East, with ICAO attributing this to a combination of factors such as the competitive environment – competing hubs and more point to point services, low oil prices and the impact of a strong US dollar.
Looking at domestic air travel, Asia-Pacific saw strong growth (+10.6 per cent) owing to the strong demand in India and China, especially the former with over 20 per cent growth.
LCCs consistently grew at a faster pace compared to the world average growth, and their market share continued to increase, specifically in emerging economies. In 2017, LCCs carried an estimated 1.2 billion passengers, and accounted for approximately 30 per cent of the world total scheduled passengers.
Within the LCC market, carriers in Europe represented 33 per cent of total passengers carried, followed by Asia-Pacific and North America with 31 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
Meanwhile, industry capacity expansion outstripped the increase in travel demand. Total capacity offered by the world’s airlines in 2017, expressed in available seat-kilometres (ASKs), increased globally by around 6.4 per cent. As a result, overall passenger load factor improved by 0.9 percentage points and reached a record high of 81.2 per cent. The Middle East was the only region posting a decline in load factors, as being under pressure with the slowing trend in traffic growth.
In terms of financial performance, airlines were expected to maintain operating profit at nearly the same levels seen in 2016, with average jet fuel prices up about 25 per cent in 2017 coupled with improvement in traffic. ICAO estimated the year’s operating profit to total around US$60 billion, with operating margin of 8.0 per cent; and net profits of around US$36 billion.
Going ahead, ICAO expect continued growth in air travel demand growth has gained solid momentum, supported by the ongoing improvement in global economic conditions throughout the year.