UK international traffic down 7.4% in 2009; but Turkey, Egypt and UAE all up strongly

Image: AirAsia X London Bus
The UK-Malaysia market is one of the UK’s fastest-growing – up by more than 30% in 2009 – largely driven by Air Asia X’s entry. Its Kuala Lumpur to London Stansted route started last year as five times weekly, but now operates daily. The route is here seen celebrated in front of the London Eye, which ironically used to be called the British Airways London Eye (British Airways no longer flies to Malaysia).

Demand for international air travel to and from the United Kingdom was impacted by the poor economic climate, which also had a significant impact on the exchange rate of the pound to the euro, making continental holidays more expensive. Examining what has identified as some of the UK’s most mature markets reveals that most of them had a pretty dreadful 2009. In recent months, only the German market has performed close to the levels of 2008.

Chart: Traffic on “mature” UK markets (M8) - Year-on-year change in passengers 1/2007 to 12/2009
Source: UK CAA

The Irish market has also had to contend with the imposition of a so-called ‘Tourism tax’ which has certainly had a noticeable effect on demand between the UK and Ireland. The Japanese market has recovered from its extremely poor start to last year but UK-Japan traffic was still down 19% in 2009. The launch of Tokyo services at the end of March by each of the ‘MEB3′ (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways) carriers may draw away even more traffic from the remaining non-stop services.

Half of the ‘emerging’ markets are still growing

Among the eight country markets classified two years ago by as ‘emerging’, four are still reporting consistent growth in the second half of 2009. Morocco, Romania, Turkey and UAE markets are still experiencing increases in demand.

Chart: Traffic on “emerging” UK markets (E8) - Year-on-year change in passengers 1/2007 to 12/2009
Source: UK CAA

The spectacular growth of the Polish market in 2007 and the first three-quarters of 2008 has been followed by a decline in demand of 17% in 2009. The Czech Republic (Prague) market was also down 17%, while Hungary (Budapest) was down 12% and Bulgaria 11%. Slovakia was down 22%, not helped by the collapse of its de facto flag carrier SkyEurope during the summer.

Malaysia and Saudi Arabia benefiting from new services

If total passenger numbers are compared for 2009 and 2008, it transpires that Spain and the USA have seen the biggest fall in passenger numbers in volume terms, with Spain losing over three million passengers and the USA almost two million.

Chart: UK country market changes - Change in passenger numbers: 2009 v 2008
Source: UK CAA

In volume terms, the fastest growing markets are Turkey, Egypt, UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and India. Just outside the top six are Qatar, Romania, Kenya and Denmark, though each of these countries saw volume growth of less than 100,000 annual passengers. In percentage terms, the fastest-growing country markets (minimum requirement of 100,000 annual passengers) are Argentina (+41.7%), Malaysia (+31.6%) and Saudi Arabia (+31.0%). The Buenos Aires market grew thanks to BA’s decision to increase frequency on its service (which operates via Sao Paulo) from four-weekly flights to daily.

The Malaysian market has benefited from the launch of low-cost AirAsia X services from London Stansted, while Saudi Arabia has been helped by the resumption of British Airways flights from Heathrow to both Riyadh and Jeddah at the end of May. Country markets where traffic volumes were down by over 30% include Sri Lanka (-36.2%), Estonia (-36.7%) and Bangladesh (-45.4%).


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