Economic woes force August US capacity cuts

Scheduled flight operations within North America will be at their lowest August level for 10 years, according to the latest statistics from flight schedule data market business OAG.

The OAG FACTS (Frequency and Capacity Trend Statistics) reveals that this month there will be 953,083 fewer air seats offered within North America compared with August 2011, with 21,401 fewer flights. For the year to date, decreases of two per cent in flights and one per cent in seat capacity have been experienced compared with the first eight months of 2011.

“Against the backdrop of a slowing economy the North American region is experiencing general consolidation of its internal scheduled air services,” said Rob Shaw, director of analytics.

“This is partly the natural consequence of the well-publicised airline mergers of recent years, but it also reflects the strategy of individual carriers in a tough trading environment: reducing capacity to maintain fares at a profitable level.”

Only three of North America’s top 10 hubs (San Francisco at 7 per cent, Charlotte at 5 per cent and Toronto at 4 per cent) will show significant growth in seat capacity this month, while capacity at Chicago O’Hare will drop by three per cent.

North America’s flights and seats to and from other worldwide regions will both show a 2 per cent increase in August, offering some better news, but the biggest growth in long-haul traffic is seen in the Middle East – driven largely by the United Arab Emirates and Dubai in particular.

This month will see flight operations to and from the Middle East grow by seven per cent to 64,252, while seat capacity will increase by eight per cent to reach 14,219,564 – nearly 4,000 more flights and more than a million more seats offered than in August 2011. Traffic within the Middle East region is also expected to grow by 4 per cent (flights) and 3 per cent (seats).

The Middle East region’s key hubs are all experiencing strong year-on-year growth in August, with Abu Dhabi seeing seats increasing by 248,896 (up 17 per cent), Doha by 244,470 (11 per cent) and Bahrain by 114,560 (11 percent), OAG noted. It added that, by far the strongest performer in the region however is Dubai, with 782,544 additional seats and 2,694 additional flight operations compared with August 2011.

“Strategically, the Middle East is growing in importance all the time, particularly in terms of its links with Western Europe,” said Shaw.

“While capacity reductions are continuing on several key routes between Western Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, more than 400,000 extra seats are now offered between Western Europe and the Middle East. Of these, more than 70 per cent are on services to and from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, largely reflecting the continued expansion plans of the premier Gulf-based airlines.”

Dubai, with its 12 per cent increase in flight operations and 14 per cent increase in seat capacity, is also showing the fastest growth among the major global air hubs, OAG said.

Seat capacity at eight of the world’s top 10 airports will grow this month. Beijing’s year-on-year increase of eight per cent brings it ever closer to Atlanta as the world’s largest hub in terms of seats offered, while Tokyo’s offering increased by nearly 375,000 seats, up five per cent on August 2011, securing its status as the world’s fourth-largest hub after London-Heathrow.

Worldwide, airlines have increased flights by 16,948 and seats by 9,608,208, taking the total scheduled flight operations for August 2012 to 2,789,437 and the total of seats offered to 361,193,356. This represents growth of one per cent in flights but three per cent in seats, which is explained by the increased use of larger aircraft. Average aircraft seat capacity is 129 this month compared with 127 in August 2011.

For the year to date, scheduled flights show a growth of 2 per cent and seat capacity an increase of 3 per cent compared with the January-August period last year.


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