Global airline earnings this year will top previous forecasts and surge to a record in 2018, spurred by higher fares and burgeoning cargo demand, according to the industry's main trade group.
Net income for 2017 is likely to total $34.5 billion, $3.1 billion higher than forecast in June, the International Air Transport Association said Tuesday in a statement. The figure should advance by a further 11 percent next year.
All major regions are expected to contribute, led by Europe and the U.S. More cargo is being sent by air as people increasingly buy goods over the Internet -- giving a particular lift to Asian exports. While booming passenger traffic will spur fares, airlines will be challenged by rising costs for fuel and labor. One emerging concern is the effect of U.S. President Donald Trump's travel restrictions on Middle East carriers.
"These are good times for the global air transport industry," IATA Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac said in the release. "More people than ever are traveling. The demand for air cargo is at its strongest level in over a decade. Employment is growing. More routes are being opened. Airlines are achieving sustainable levels of profitability."
Seat-occupancy will reach 81.4 percent in 2018, while yields, a measure of fares, should advance 3 percent, according to IATA. The price of jet fuel is forecast to jump almost 13 percent, weighing on earnings at carriers with limited hedging, such as those in the U.S. and China.
The upgraded estimate for this year is still slightly below 2016's $34.8 billion earnings figure, but the 2018 prediction to $38.4 billion would represent a new industry high as passenger numbers top 4.3 billion. Profit per passenger is forecast to reach $8.90, a gain of 45 cents.
While North America will remain by far the biggest contributor to profit next year, according to IATA, its share of the total will fall below half. Europe will provide the biggest increase in net income at a gain of $1.7 billion as travel continues to rebound from a spate of terrorist attacks and trans-Atlantic demand remains strong. De Juniac has said insolvency filings at carriers including Air Berlin Plc and Alitalia SpA reflect...