Vital signs

Might the end of the latest great global industry crisis be hoving into view? Whisper it quietly, but the patient – the aviation business – might just be showing signs of renewed life.

That’s certainly what two of the world’s leading airports group are saying today. As Frankfurt Airport posted a marginal decline in August passenger numbers, CEO Stefan Schulte was prompted to say that the decline in passenger numbers had bottomed out.

“From month to month the decline is lessening. We have a good chance of ending the year only -5% to -6% down [when we had expected] -6% to -9% fewer passengers.”

Encouraging noises, backed up by BAA’s unveiling of its August results – with its key location, Heathrow, posting a record for the month in passenger traffic terms.

Just last week ACI offered us a more rounded global view of the industry’s health with its PaxFlash for July. The month showed a worldwide decline of just -1.2% year-on-year, a huge improvments on the heavy falls posted in May and June.

A cautious ACI Director General Angela Gittens noted: “It may still be too soon to assume the worst is over, but results in a few key markets are most encouraging.”

Those markets include the ever-resilient Middle East, still posting double-digit growth in international traffic; and crucially, domestic traffic in Asia Pacific (fuelled by China and India) and in Latin America.

There is plenty of reason for caution: international traffic at a global level remains depressed compared to domestic, and for airlines, high-yield business traffic is still in the doldrums. And, of course, a return to traffic growth – or even traffic stability – does not mean a return to previous spending levels among travel retail shoppers.

But every journey starts with a few small steps. And there is good reason to hope that this patient will eventually make a full recovery.

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