Big people won’t like to hear this but Jetstar continues to defy gravity and grow according to the provisional traffic figures for March.

Forget the big unknown of swine ‘flu for a moment, since it hadn’t popped up in March.

While the rest of the world’s airlines seem to be going down the chute, Jetstar is climbing up the cliff.

Comparing this March to a year ago, Jetstar’s head count rose 1.8%, its revenue passenger kilometres number was unchanged, and it lifted its revenue load or seats filled factor by 3.1 percentage points.

But in Qantas, the domestic head count fell 2.6% (bad news here but deliriously good by overseas standards), the RPKs dropped by 3.8% and the load factors were down by 1.3 percentage points.

Its Qantaslink mainly turbo prop routes including many Canberra flights dropped more where it hurts, losing 6.2% in RPKs with the the buzz boxes flying 4 percentage points emptier than a year ago.

International routes for Qantas were a blood shower rather than blood bath, down 15.8% by numbers boarded, and 12.2% by RPKs or backsides multiplied by distance flown, and the flights were 3.2 percentage points emptier.

Qantas’s international competitors would kill for figures like that, in fact one nearly did last month, as the most commonly reported figure among European, American and Asian international carriers is around a 30% drop, which in some case, is go broke territory.

Jetstar, from a small base, continues to rise sharply on international routes, up 36.3% in March by customers, and 25.7% by RPKs which adjusts for distances flown and thus ticket values.

This rise of Jetstar is a constant source of paranoia in mainline Qantas ranks, where staff generally work less and get paid more than the expanding low cost division, especially with Alan Joyce, the founding CEO of Jetstar now running the Qantas Group.

But the Virgin Blue figures for March weren’t immediately at hand, so it is hard to even guess to what extent if any which Jetstar is cannibalising Qantas, taking custom from Virgin Blue, or even creating new demand.

Peter Fray

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