Global demand for air freight dips in January

International Air Transport Association says rebound unlikely unless trade tensions and protectionism ease

Asian and Middle Eastern freight demand slowed in May amid the ongoing trade standoff between Beijng and Washington. EPA
Asian and Middle Eastern freight demand slowed in May amid the ongoing trade standoff between Beijng and Washington. EPA

Global air freight markets suffered a decline in demand, measured in freight tonne kilometres, of 1.8 per cent in January 2019, compared with the same period in 2018, the International Air Transport Association said on Thursday.

While it was the worst performance in the past three years, freight capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres, rose by 4 per cent year-on-year. This was the eleventh consecutive month where capacity growth outstripped demand growth, Iata said.

"Air cargo markets contracted in January. This is a worsening of a weakening trend that started in mid-2018. Unless protectionist measures and trade tensions diminish, there is little prospect of a quick re-bound,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata's director general and chief executive.

Demand for air cargo continues to face significant headwinds as global economic activity and consumer confidence have weakened. The Purchasing Managers Index for manufacturing and export orders indicated falling global export orders since September 2018.

Only two of six regions – North America and Africa – reported year-on-year demand growth in January.

North American airlines posted the fastest growth of any region for the eighth consecutive month in January, with an increase in demand of 3.3 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier. Capacity increased by 5 per cent. The strength of the US economy and consumer spending have helped support the demand for air cargo over the past year, benefiting US airlines.

African airlines reported an increase in freight demand by 1 per cent and capacity by 8.2 per cent year-on-year. Seasonally-adjusted air cargo demand has now trended upwards for six months. And while seasonally-adjusted international freight volumes are lower than their peak in mid-2017, they are still 35 per cent higher than their most recent trough in late-2015, Iata data shows.

Freight volumes for airlines in the Middle East contracted 4.5 per cent in January compared to the year-ago period. Capacity increased by 4.1 per cent. Seasonally-adjusted international air cargo demand, which moved up for the past three months helped by stronger trade to/from Europe and Asia, has started to decline, Iata said.

Asia-Pacific airlines' demand for air freight shrank by 3.6 per cent in January, amid weaker manufacturing conditions for exporters in the region, ongoing trade tensions and a slowdown in the Chinese economy. Capacity increased by 4.1 per cent.

European airlines reported a contraction in freight demand of 3.1 per cent, while capacity increased by 2.8 per cent year-on-year. Weaker manufacturing conditions for exporters and shorter supply delivery times, particularly in Germany, one of Europe’s key export markets, affected demand. Trade tensions and uncertainty over Brexit also contributed to the dwindle in demand.

Latin American airlines’ freight demand was flat in January versus last year. Despite the economic uncertainty in the region, a number of key markets are performing strongly. Freight traffic within South America and between Central and South America grew at a double-digit rate in January. And demand on routes between North and South America also performed well, Iata said. Capacity decreased by 0.7 per cent.

Updated: March 7, 2019 06:07 PM


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