European airlines: slowdown is reducing passengers
The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
BRUSSELS, Belgium: Europe’s major airlines said Wednesday that the economic slowdown cut passenger numbers in September and they don’t expect a turnaround in the near future. Alitalia, Spanair and Icelandair were worst hit as the number of people flying on member airlines dropped 1.1 percent compared with the previous year, the Association of European Airlines said. The group said this was the first time in 25 years that the economy caused traffic to fall and came after three months of slow growth over the summer. With worse still to come as European economies slide close to recession, AEA’s secretary general Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus said passenger numbers “cannot be expected to recover in the immediate future.” He blamed a “toxic combination” of a slowing economy, declining business and consumer confidence and high inflation driven by higher oil prices — even though they have come down from recent record levels. Flights within European countries fell sharply, down 12 percent, while lucrative trans-Atlantic flights between Europe and North America did not grow at all. Only flights from Europe to the Middle East and to the South Atlantic grew — neither of them major markets. Italy’s flagship carrier Alitalia, which went bankrupt in August, saw the worst drop in passenger numbers, down 25 percent from a year ago. Spanish airline Spanair was down 21 percent as the bursting of a housing bubble saw the country’s economy slow sharply. Another troubled nation’s airline, Icelandair, flew 12.8 percent fewer people than it did in September 2007 as the banking crisis saw Iceland itself teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. But Europe’s biggest airlines fared better. Germany’s Lufthansa — which flew nearly 5 million people last month — saw numbers grow 4.2 percent. Near rival Air France saw an 0.2 percent drop in traffic while British Airways saw a larger 5.1 percent decline. The AEA represents 35 European airlines, mostly national flag carriers, that carry 380 million people every year. It does not count passenger numbers on budget airlines such as Ryanair or chartered vacation flights.