European Air Traffic Hit By Debt Crisis, Arab Spring

May 8, 2012

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European air traffic fell in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period last year, two aviation bodies said, with the decline blamed on Europe's debt crisis and the lingering effects of the Arab Spring unrest.

European air traffic body Eurocontrol, which oversees an estimated 40 percent of world passenger and cargo routes, said there were 2.12 million flights in Europe between January and March this year, down 3.3 percent on the first quarter of 2011.

It said in a statement the number of flights was slightly below its forecast, and was due to slower-than-expected recovery in flights between Europe and North Africa following political upheaval in popular tourist destinations Egypt and Tunisia.

The figures echoed an earlier statement by TUI Travel, the world's biggest tour operator, which said French markets had been hit by the slow recovery of tourism in North Africa.

The charter flight segment was the only one to show growth in the first quarter compared with last year, Eurocontrol said. The decline in flights by low-cost operators over the period was sharper at 4.3 percent than for traditional carriers at 3.1 percent, it said.

Eurocontrol's director for network management, Jacques Dopagne, said it was still forecasting an overall decline in flight numbers in 2012 of 1.3 percent.

Separate data released by airports body ACI Europe on Tuesday showed a 4.1 percent drop in air freight traffic for the first quarter of this year compared with 2011.

Passenger traffic grew by 3.4 percent between January and March compared with a year earlier, but there was a sharp contrast between growth at EU airports of 1.7 percent and other European airports which saw an increase of 11.5 percent.

"This is damning evidence of the impact of the unresolved sovereign debt crisis and punitive national aviation taxes," ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec said in a statement.

The ACI Europe data covered 173 airports, which together accounted for more than 88 percent of European passenger traffic.