After suffering because of SARS and the war in Iraq, the number of air passengers on international flights has recovered to year-earlier levels, an industry association said. But it is still behind the robust levels that preceded the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.
"For the first time since February when SARS and Iraq so radically impacted our industry, we can write our monthly traffic figure with black ink," meaning the number is higher than the same month the year before, Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, said Monday.
The global figures for September are 1 percent above September last year, confirming the steady traffic rise of the past three months, the association said.
It marks the first time since February, when SARS and the looming conflict in Iraq frightened off flyers, that passenger traffic has shown an increase over the year-earlier figure.
IATA forecast that by the end of the year, global passenger traffic for all of this year would be within 1 percent of last year's total, provided stable conditions continue.
The association said it released only the percentage changes and not the absolute number of passengers for the comparative periods.
Robust growth in Europe, where traffic grew 3.6 percent since the same month last year, and high growth in the Middle East, with a 19.4 percent improvement over September last year, contributed to this worldwide result.
The Asia-Pacific region, where air travel plummeted following the outbreak of the SARS virus in China, has recovered sharply but is still trailing last year's performance, with figures 1.6 percent lower.
"Asia Pacific has had a tremendous spurt in passenger growth. It was hardest hit by the SARS virus," IATA spokeswoman Nancy Gautier said. "That's why its growth seems so dramatic."
North America carriers, also badly affected, were still 3.6 percent below the September figure, IATA said.
IATA said on the freight side, actual traffic and available total capacity were recorded at 2.9 percent better than September last year.
"Cargo is a lot more stable," Gautier explained. "It wasn't really impacted by SARS. That's because it was made very clear from the start that cargo was not affected by the virus."
The association said that, while the industry has largely recovered from the impact of SARS and the Iraq war, it still is suffering from the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.
Passenger traffic for August this year was down 4.2 percent on the August 2001 results, whereas freight was a strong 14 percent above the 2001 level.