Following an 18-month decline, the premium airline traffic returned to growth in December 2009, recording a 1.7 per cent increase compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the latest data released by International Air Transport Association (Iata).
The number of passengers travelling on premium (business or first) seats in international markets increased above year-earlier levels for the first time since May 2008, the aviation trade body said in a statement.
It added that this increase was led by a surge in flights within Asia, with traffic between East Asian nations increasing almost 15 per cent.
Flight segments to the Middle East, meanwhile, stand out as showing continuous growth despite recession in the major economies, the Iata report pointed out. It added that since this data records flight segments rather than ultimate origin destinations, a large part of the growth reflects market share gains by Middle Eastern airlines on long-haul markets via their Middle Eastern hubs.
Also, flight segments to the Middle East continued to benefit from market share gains by Middle Eastern airlines, the Iata report said.
The report added that this move is supported by the stronger gains in economy rather than premium.
"Many business travellers will still value direct flights rather than connections, however efficient and well served. From Europe to the Middle East, economy travel grew 9.6 per cent in 2009 and was 13.8 per cent up by December," Iata said.
Premium traffic, however, fell 1.1 per cent across the North Atlantic – the biggest market for corporate travel.
Premium travel did fall, by 5.9 per cent in 2009, but was up seven per cent by December, Iata said. The Middle East to Far East segment showed a similar pattern with economy travel up 14.3 per cent in 2009 and 18.6 per cent by December, while premium travel fell four per cent in 2009, but was up 15.8 per cent by December.
Iata warned that while business travel is picking up, it is still unclear whether the market will return to previous levels as companies continue to compel employees to use economy flights.
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