U.S. airline passenger traffic to drop 9 percent: FAA

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:59pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Passenger traffic aboard all airline flights in the United States will drop nearly 9 percent this year due to recession compared with 2008, when they carried 679 million people, the government said on Tuesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimate, if it proves accurate, would represent the largest decline in annual domestic capacity since the industry was deregulated in 1978.

Major airlines slashed capacity by more than 8 percent when demand plummeted in the year following the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The FAA also said the number of passengers boarding international flights on U.S. carriers is expected to drop 2.4 percent.

American carriers have scaled back transatlantic routes due to a sharp drop in business travel. The global financial services meltdown has hurt travel between New York and London, industry officials have said.

Aircraft operations are forecast to fall 5.7 percent in 2009 as carriers cut service and flights by some larger aircraft due to falling demand.

Most flights, however, should remain full or nearly full, with load factors expected to hover around 80 percent, the FAA said.

The FAA also estimated domestic carriers would board 1 billion passengers for the first time in 2021, instead of the previous forecast of 2016.

(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Andre Grenon)

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