ACI World warns that passenger and traffic growth ‘remains uncertain’ after ‘robust but moderating’ results in 2018

29 January, 2019

The outlook for the airport industry's performance this year 'remains uncertain', according to global airport body ACI World, with current global economic and political tensions providing some concerns on the development of the sector.

"The United States' federal government is suffering from a partial shutdown, China's diplomatic relationships are under tension with several major Western countries, the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union is still being negotiated, and geopolitical tensions are high in the Middle East, with the Qatar crisis remaining unresolved, all of which could have a significant impact on passenger and traffic growth in 2019," warns its director general, Angela Gittens.

Latest ACI World figures from its global airport membership show stable growth for the passenger sector, but significant volatility in the air freight market. Despite small monthly fluctuations, the general passenger traffic growth trend between Aug-2018 and Nov-2018 was quite stable, hovering between 5% and 5.5%. ACI World recorded a 5.0% increase in global passenger traffic in Nov-2018.

Meanwhile, air freight volumes showed significant volatility during the same period with year-over-year figures ranging from a high of 3.7% in Oct-2018 to a low of -0.3% in Nov-2018. The gains produced by the industry in the first half of 2018 have been moderating since, with year-to-date growth reaching 3.6% at the end of November.

"Following the strong results in 2017 during which passenger growth was recorded at 7.5%, it looks as if the industry will record similarly robust but moderating results in 2018," says Ms Gittens. At the end of November, the year-to-date result for passenger traffic for 2018 was 6%. On the freight side, the volatility in the market shows that the trade war between the world's two largest economies "has certainly tested the industry this year and the final impact on global supply chains remaining uncertain," according to Ms Gittens.

While passenger demand has remained strong, the ACI World data between Aug-2018 and Nov-2018 highlights some developing trends. In August, passenger traffic grew by 5.4% on a year-over-year basis - both domestic and international segments performed comparably, at 5.2% and 5.6% respectively. Although regional heterogeneity was present, with figures ranging from 3.7% (for Latin America-Caribbean) to 7% (for Africa), most regions performed well during the period, standing close to the global industry figure.

The trend in Sep-2018 remained similar to the previous month, although the Middle East under-performed slightly, posting a 1.6% growth figure for its total passenger traffic compared to the global industry's 5.1%. Both international and domestic segments of the industry produced comparable results, with 5.5% and 4.8% respectively on a year-over-year basis. The month marked a moderation in Asia-Pacific's results, its passenger traffic gaining 3.4% versus 6.5% in Aug-2018.

The international market gained over the domestic market in Oct-2018, with the global industry posting 6.6% and 4.6% for the two segments on a year-over-year basis. Total industry growth reached 5.5% during the month. Europe performed particularly well compared to the two other major regional markets, posting 6.8% in total traffic growth, at least 2 percentage points above Asia-Pacific (4.8%) and North America (3.6%).

Nov-2018's global passenger traffic trend saw a continuation of the previous month's shift in favour of the international market; it grew by 6.8% on a year-over-year basis, compared to 3.9% for the domestic market. The global result was in line with prior months, gaining 5%.

Year-to-date figures were closer for the two segments, with the international market having grown 6.7% over the year, compared to 5.4% for the domestic market. Nearly all regions had robust year-to-date growth rates, with only the Middle East (2.1%) hovering below 5%. Asia-Pacific, despite showing a moderation in growth rates in the last four months, stood at 6.8%. Europe and North America's year-to-date have been remarkably stable for the last months, at 6.2% and 5.1% respectively by November's end.

Briefly looking at freight trends, despite the volatility and moderation of the last months, year-to-date figures remain robust for the air freight industry. Total freight is set to grow by at least 3% by year's end (currently at 3.6%), with domestic freight hovering around 5%. International freight is standing at 3%, with the trend suggesting it could stand around 2.7% by year's end. As ACI World highlights, "considering the events taking place in 2018, these figures do point to the industry's impressive resilience to shocks".