But more bad news may be on the way. Echoing Enders, IATA adds that with job losses in many sectors of the global economy increasing and further falls in consumer confidence “it seems that the bottom has not yet been reached for air travel and even weaker numbers may become evident in the first few months of this year.”
Airbus says it is lowering the production rate of its popular A320 family of airliners from October. The International Air Transport Association, meanwhile, warns that more woe is in store for the airline industry this year.
The European planemaker says it will cut A320 production from the present 36 to 34 a month. Production rates for the A330/A340 family will be paused at the current level of 8.5 a month, and not increased further as previously planned.
The company says these moves reflect Airbus` current view on market demand as airlines continue to adapt their capacities in the face of continuing uncertainties caused by the worldwide economic crisis. At this point, no impact on employment is foreseen, says Airbus CEO Tom Enders.
“We monitor the market continuously and try to be proactive. Flexibility and adaptability are essential in times of crises. We reached record production rates in late 2008, but now we see a drop of air traffic in most regions. Many airlines are taking capacity out of the market. I do not exclude further production cuts if the need arises.”
The announcement comes as the International Air Transport Association announces business travel continued its steep decline in December, with passenger numbers travelling on premium tickets down to a level 13.3% lower than the previous year, following an 11.5% decline in November.
“This precipitous fall has been driven by the abrupt decline in business activity and international trade across the world,” IATA`s economists say in their latest Premium Traffic Monitor.
Enders adds that the production cut “will not affect the 2009 Airbus delivery target”. He says “Airbus achieved a record high of 483 deliveries in 2008 and aims to achieve a similar figure in 2009”
The IATA report adds economy travel is on a slightly less precipitous trajectory of decline, with numbers travelling on these tickets during December down 5.3% which is slightly less than the 6% decline seen in November. “Leisure trips at this time of the year may well have been pre-booked before the full extent of the recession was apparent, so an accelerated fall in economy travel numbers should be expected in January.”
The report notes Asia continues to show the greatest degree of weakness in premium travel, despite the epicentre of the current recession originating in the West, “largely because of the importance of international trade and finance in driving business travel”.
Within the Far East premium travel was down 25.1% in December, fell 19.7% across the Pacific and was down 17.3% on Europe-Far East routes. Only African markets show any signs of remaining growth, but this was in respect of intra-African travel where demand for premium traffic rose by 11.8% during the month. “Most forecasts suggest that economic growth in both North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa will slow from last year`s 5%-plus but at 3-4% that still may generate some air travel within the continent. However, travel on the Africa-Europe and Africa-Asia markets has weakened sharply with premium passenger numbers down 6.6% and 24% respectively.”