DOT Reports March Gains in Air Travel

U.S. airlines carried 63.6 million scheduled domestic and international passengers in March 2011, a 2.2 percent increase from March 2010, according to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). The March 2011 passenger total was also 4.3 percent above that of two years ago in March 2009 but still remained 6.1 percent below the early recession level of March 2008.

The BTS, which is a part of DOT's Research and Innovative Technology Administration, also reported that U.S. airlines carried 2.2 percent more domestic passengers in March 2011 than in March 2010. The number of international passengers on U.S. carriers in March 2011 increased 1.8 percent over March 2010.

U.S. airline systemwide passenger numbers began turning upward in early 2010 after declines that began in April 2008 and continued for two years, BTS said in its analysis. There were 2.6 percent fewer passengers in the April 2009 to March 2010 period compared to April 2008 to March 2009. From the year ending March 2010 to the year ending in March 2011, systemwide passenger numbers on U.S. airlines increased 2.8 percent.

U.S. airline domestic passenger numbers showed the same pattern as the systemwide numbers but have recovered more slowly. There were 2.5 percent fewer passengers in the April 2009 to March 2010 period compared to April 2008 to March 2009. From the year ending in March 2010 to the year ending in March 2011, domestic passenger numbers on U.S. airlines increased 2.3 percent.

The decline in the number of international passengers on U.S. airlines did not start until September 2008, five months after the domestic drop-off began. However, the international decline was more severe, with a 3.5 percent decline in the number of passengers in the April 2009 to March 2010 period compared to April 2008 to March 2009. The recovery has been faster. From the year ending in March 2010 to the year ending in March 2011, international passenger numbers on U.S. airlines increased 6.1 percent, BTS reports.

In February 2011, U.S. airline systemwide load factor failed to attain record high levels for the first time in 19 consecutive months. Systemwide load factors, the combination of domestic and international, set all-time records for each month beginning with July 2009 as airlines reduced capacity.

Beginning in early 2010, as passenger numbers increased, all-time high load factors resulted. In the latter half of 2010, airlines began adding new capacity, leading to less growth in load factors and, in March 2011, a reduction from the previous year. International capacity, measured by available seat-miles, grew 8.3 percent from March 2010 to March 2011 while overall capacity grew 5.1 percent. The increased capacity resulted in reduced systemwide, domestic and international load factors in March 2011 compared to March 2010.

In March, Delta Airlines carried more total system and domestic passengers than any other U.S. airline. American Airlines carried the most international passengers. During the first three months of 2011, Southwest carried more total system and domestic passengers than any other U.S. airline while American carried the most international passengers, the BTS reported.

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