December a good month for premium air travel

Most airlines still count on first- and business-class passengers to boost their revenue, and new statistics from IATA show that many of those airlines have reason for optimism: The growth rate for first- and business-class traffic picked up in the fourth quarter of 2006.

IATA said there was robust growth in premium traffic on routes from the Middle East, within North America, within Africa and from the Far East to Australasia.

The worldwide, year-over-year increase in premium traffic in December, 5.9%, was significantly higher than the 4.3% increase for all of 2006 and marked the highest monthly increase since May.

IATA said the December growth on so many routes is particularly encouraging because it came during a holiday period usually focused on leisure traffic. Furthermore, IATA said it expects good results for premium traffic to continue.

Higher U.S. economic growth than expected in recent months, combined with strong growth in Asia and the Middle East, provides a positive momentum for further premium traffic growth into 2007, IATA said in its Premium Traffic Monitor for December, which the association released last month.

Premium traffic increases, however, have not been uniform across the world.

Five main routes account for 75% of all premium traffic: within Europe; North Atlantic; within the Far East; Europe-Far East; and North and Mid-Pacific.

Among those markets, premium traffic for Europe-Far East routes grew the most, thanks in part to strengthening trade links and Asias economic growth, IATA said.

But premium traffic on routes within Europe actually declined slightly while economy traffic rose 7.4%, a dichotomy IATA attributed to strong competition from no-frills airlines, even for business traffic.

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