Preliminary figures released by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) show a total of 4.3 billion passengers were carried by air transport on scheduled services in 2018, indicating a 6.1 per cent increase over 2017.
The number of departures rose to approximately 38 million globally, and world passenger traffic, expressed in terms of total scheduled revenue passenger-kilometres (RPKs), grew solidly at 6.7 per cent and reached approximately 8.2 trillion RPKs performed. This growth is a slowdown from the 7.9 per cent achieved in 2017.
The report also shows that over half of the world’s 1.4 billion tourists who travelled across international borders last year were transported by air, and that air transport now carries some 35 per cent of world trade by value.
Indeed, around 90 per cent of cross border Business-to-Consumer (B2C) e-commerce was carried by air transport.
ICAO said the final official figures will be released in the 2019 Annual Report of the Council.
Airline financial results show that average jet fuel prices increased by approximately 31 per cent in 2018 compared to 2017, but remained notably lower than the prices observed for the ten years prior to 2015.
ICAO explained that the low fuel cost coupled with solid increase in traffic helped the airlines to maintain relatively high record of profitable level in 2018 albeit slightly lower from 2017.
“The airline industry is expected to end 2018 with another record operating profit of around USD 57 billion and an operating margin of 7.0 percent.
“The net profits for the Industry is expected to be around USD 34 billion with nearly half of this being generated by air carriers of North America.
Deceleration in global economic growth forecast by the World Bank could see moderation in traffic growth and profitability momentum in 2019,” the report said.
For cargo traffic, the report said after the sharp pick-up in air freight growth during the inventory restocking in 2017, air cargo traffic growth moderated in 2018.
“This coincides with the softening demand drivers impacted by the trade tension and declining import and export orders. World scheduled freight traffic, measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) grew modestly by 4.5 per cent in 2018, compared to the 9.5 per cent recorded in 2017.
“The international segment of freight traffic which represents nearly 87 per cent of total air freight grew by around 4.6 per cent while the scheduled international freight load factor remained at a similar level as last year at around 55 per cent,” it said.
ICAO also reported that increase in air travel demand outstripped the industry capacity expansion.
Total capacity offered by the world’s airlines in 2018, expressed in available seat-kilometres (ASKs), increased globally by around 6.0 per cent. As a result, overall passenger load factor improved by 0.6 percentage points and reached a record high of 81.9 per cent.
Two regions, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East, posted a decline in load factors, as being under pressure with the slowing trend in traffic growth.
Load factor varies by region, ranging from 71.8 per cent for Africa to 84.5 per cent for Europe.