Airlines rejoice at return of business travelers

Business travelers are giving the airline industry a reason to be hopeful … which is strange. Usually, those guys are such a drag. Trust me; I was one of them for a while. Business travelers aren’t much fun at parties or anywhere else. Nonetheless, their presence on planes means more cash in the till for the airline industry, following two years of economic mayhem (and years of management that is what it is).

At a recent meeting of the International Air Transport Association, 700 industry leaders seem to have decided that the biz is headed in the right direction, though they remain cautious. Translation:

Cautious optimism means most airlines expect to make money this year after a couple of years of staggering losses, precipitated by the oil price run-up in 2008 and the global recession in 2009. A profitable airline industry could also be good news for business travelers as airlines restore the capacity they removed from the network during the last two disastrous years, putting many more seats on sale and offering a wider array of flight options on many routes.

According to IATA, the industry lost $80 billion in the last two years, four times the amount it dropped following the terror attacks of 9/11. Yet, the corner appears to have been turned. Originally, IATA predicted a $5.6 billion loss for the airline industry in 2010, but it has since changed the forecast to a $2.5 billion aggregate profit. This really only amounts to a margin of 0.5 percent (on revenues of $545 billion), which is basically irrelevant in light of the last two years’ losses, but at least it provides a glimmer of hope.
The suits are the reason for this mild form of airline economic bliss:

The rapid turnaround has been led by business travel. During the combined oil/economic crisis, business travel took the greatest hit with passengers traveling in international first and business class down by as much as 25% in May 2009 from the previous year. In contrast, the number of passengers traveling in international economy class was only 10% lower at its bottom point in March 2009 vs. the previous year.

Now that business travelers are back on planes, many problems are creeping toward resolution. Asia and Middle East are leading the recovery, but Europe is expected to lag, with an aggregate loss of $2.8 billion despite a forecasted passenger traffic increase of 2.9 percent.

You may not be crazy about all those cell phone-toting pricks lingering at the gate … but the airlines sure are.

Airlines do one thing ahead of schedule: profits

It seems as though flight times aren’t the only things being padded. The original estimate by the International Air Transport Association that the global airline industry wouldn’t be profitable for three years following the financial crisis gave a little bit of elbow room – something you won’t find on the planes themselves – as indicated by the recent announcement of a predicted aggregate profit of at least $2.5 billion. Back in April, IATA forecasted a $2.8 billion loss for the year.

Demand for seats is on the rise, as people just don’t want to stay home any more. Notes, Giovanni Bisignani, director general of IATA, according to a report in USA Today, “The global economy is recovering from the depths of the financial crisis much more quickly than could have been anticipated.”

In 2009, the global airline industry suffered an $81 billion loss of revenue – a drop of 14.3 percent from 2008. While that did make seats a bit cheaper, it also led to the slashing of routes and what few amenities were left … not to mention all those additional fees. This year, IATA expects revenues to be up $62 billion relative to 2009, but that still leaves a lot of ground for the airlines to make up. While $2.5 billion sounds like a lot of cash, it only amounts to 0.5 percent of total industry revenue, according to Bisignani.

The industry remains “fragile,” he adds, with a slow economic recovery, vulnerability to Icelandic ashes and other disruptions, Europe’s debt crisis and oil prices threatening what gains have been made.

Airline recovery: U.S. and Asia key to growth

Take advantage of cheap fares while you still can! It looks like the airline industry could find its way back to normal in as little as two years, thanks largely to increase in the United States and Asia, which will offset flagging demand in Europe.

The global recession has been brutal for the airline industry, which sustained 15 percent decline in revenue last year, according to the International Air Transport Association. Nonetheless, the initial belief that it would take three years to recover has been scaled back to two.

Says Giovanni Bisignani, top dog at IATA,

“Instead, probably we are seeing this could happen in two years,” he said at a news conference ahead of IATA’s annual general meeting next week. “The economy is pushing again strongly, especially in areas outside Europe, and the good news is that this industry is recovering faster than expectations.”

Even with an estimate economic impact of $1.8 billion from the “ash cloud” in Iceland, the airline industry is headed in the right direction. So, book your flights now … prices may be heading up soon!

Airline demand suffered worst decline in 2009

Demand for airline seats fell 3.5% last year, making it the greatest decline the industry has seen, according to the International Air Transport Association. Airlines had a tough time filling 75% of available seats on average flights, IATA reports, and an early recovery, given the difficult conditions of 2009, is unlikely. For the freight sector, the situation was even worse: a 10.1% year-over-year decline, with less than half of all available capacity consumed.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s chief executive, says, “In terms of demand, 2009 goes into the history books as the worst year the industry has ever seen.” He continues, to USA Today, “We have permanently lost two years of growth in passenger markets and three years of growth in the freight business.”

IATA forecasts a $5.6 billion loss for the air transportation industry in 2010. Bisignani observes, “Revenue improvements will be at a much slower pace than the demand growth that we are starting to see.”

Airline recession will continue into 2010, good news for passengers

The airline industry must be excited to see 2009 coming to a close. It was a year of route cuts, perk cuts and abuse from passengers over all kinds of sacrifices in the cabin … and a genuine commitment to fees for extra bags. The global financial crisis triggered in September 2008 hit the travel industry with extra severity, forcing airlines, famous for not being able to generate easy profits anyway, to scramble to keep their heads above water. But, at least there’s next year … not really.

While nobody with even shred of sense expected 2010 to be the year the airline industry went wheels up, the latest prediction from the International Air Transport Association is pretty grim. IATA expects the sector to lose $5.6 billion next year, thanks to higher fuel costs and revenue declines because of lower fares. This is worse than the $3.8 billion it originally forecasted. The number of passengers filling seats, IATA believes, will increase, but it won’t be enough to make a difference.

There’s good news in here. Continued brutal competition will keep fares low, so if you missed your chance to take that dream trip this year, you’ll have another bite at the apple in 2010. For the airlines … well, there isn’t any good news. But, is there ever?

[Photo by emrank | counting days | via Flickr]