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Fri 2 Jun 2017 12:56 AM

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US-Gulf flights demand slumps for first time in 7 years

Data from the International Air Transport Association reveals extent of impact of laptop ban

US-Gulf flights demand slumps for first time in 7 years
Kuwaiti social media activist Thamer al-Dakheel Bourashed puts his laptop inside his suitcase at Kuwait International Airport in Kuwait City before boarding a flight to the United States on March 23, 2017. (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Air passenger demand on routes between the Middle East and the United States fell for the first time in seven years in March as the cabin ban on the carriage of large portable electronic devices started to make an impact, according to new figures.

Data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed that demand - measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs - by Middle East airlines to the US fell by 2.8 percent for the month.

This was the first annual decline recorded for this market in at least seven years, IATA said in a statement.

It added that while traffic growth on the market segment was already slowing, the decline is consistent with some disruption from the ban that was announced on March 21, as well as a wider impact on inbound travel to the US from the Trump administration’s proposed travel bans.

In April, Emirates outlined plans to scale back capacity as of May on five of the 12 US routes it serves, citing the country’s tightening visa restrictions and a ban on carrying personal electronics from some locations, including Emirates’ Dubai hub.

The laptop ban order in March covered electronics devices larger than mobile phones on flights heading to the US that originated from 10 Middle Eastern airports, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

Earlier this week, nti-terrorist officials in the US said they are considering expanding the restrictions beyond the handful of Middle East airports currently covered.

IATA also reported that Middle Eastern carriers posted a 10.8 percent traffic rise in April. Capacity rose 8.9 percent and load factor climbed 1.3 percent to 76.5 percent. However, in contrast to all the other regions, the April growth rate for Middle East airlines was slower than the five-year average growth pace.

Globally, IATA said passenger demand rose by 10.7 percent compared to April 2016, which was the fastest pace in six years.

IATA estimated that falling airfares accounted for around half the demand growth in April.

"April showed us that demand for air travel remains at very strong levels. Nevertheless there are indications that passengers are avoiding routes where the large PED ban is in place," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

"As the US Department of Homeland Security considers expanding the ban, the need to find alternative measures to keep flying secure is critical. If the ban were extended to Europe-to-US flights, for example, we estimate a $1.4 billion hit on productivity. And an IATA-commissioned survey of business travelers indicated that 15 percent would seek to reduce their travel in the face of a ban," he added.

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