The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Sunday that passenger demand for flights by Middle East airlines to the United States fell in April in year-on-year terms by 2.8 percent due to the laptop ban introduced by the U. S. in late March.
IATA said in its e-mailed monthly assessment of the worldwide developments in civil aviation that the decline in April on Middle Eastern-US routes "was the first annual decline recorded for this market in at least seven years."
While traffic growth on the market segment already was slowing, it added, "the decline is consistent with some disruption from the portable electronic device (PED) ban that was announced March 21, as well as a wider impact on inbound travel to the U.S. from the Trump Administration's proposed travel bans."
Large-sized electronic devices like laptops and tablet computers have been banned for six months from March 21 on direct flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight countries, namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Morocco.
Middle Eastern carriers posted overall a 10.8 percent traffic rise in April, in line with global demand which stood at 10.7 percent.
Capacity rose 8.9 percent and load factor climbed 1.3 percentage points 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.
Moreover, in seasonally-adjusted terms, the region's international traffic has tracked sideways since January.
"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.
De Juniac added 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 .4 billion hit on productivity."
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.
Emirates Airline, the Dubai-based first carrier in the Middle East reduced from May 1 onward the number of its flights to the five U. S. cities of Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Boston, Seattle, and Los Angeles. At the same Emirates introduced a tablet loan service for passengers who need a device to work aboard.
Etihad Airways, on the other hand, introduced on June 1 an Airbus A380 aircraft on its second daily service between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital Abu Dhabi and New York. All 14 weekly Etihad flights between the two cities are now operated by the double-decker aircraft, said the national carrier of the UAE.