Global air cargo strongest since US West Coast port crisis

From strikes to combustible cell phones, supply chain disruption regularly powers growth for the world's cargo airlines.

Global air cargo traffic rose 6.6 percent year-over-year in September, the fastest growth rate since the industry benefited from the disruption caused by the US West Coast ports strike in February 2015, the International Air Transportation Association said.

The rebound, which coincided with an apparent upturn in new export orders in recent months, may also have been driven by some “unique” factors, including the rush replacement of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices and the early impact from the collapse of Hanjin Shipping at the end of August, according to the industry body.

Capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres, increased 4.7 percent while load factors remained historically low, keeping yields under pressure.

“Demand for air cargo strengthened in September. Although with growth in world trade virtually at a standstill, the cargo sector still faces some major hurdles,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

“We did have some encouraging news. The conclusion of the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement is good news for the economies involved and for air cargo. Growth is the way to overcome the world’s current economic challenges.”

The agreement is a welcome respite from the current protectionist rhetoric “and positive results should soon be evident,” he said.

Airlines in all regions except Latin America reported increased year-over-year demand in September, but results continued to vary considerably, IATA said.

European airlines enjoyed a 12.6 percent surge in traffic — almost double the 6.4 percent increase in capacity — mainly owing to higher export orders in Germany.

Asia-Pacific carriers experienced volume rise 5.5 percent, driven by increased shipments from China and Japan over the last few months, and seasonally adjusted figures for the regions are now trending upwards.

North American airlines experienced a 4.5 percent year-over-year rise in traffic, and international freight traffic was up 6.2 percent — the fastest growth rate since the disruption at West Coast ports boosted demand for air cargo. “However, in seasonally-adjusted terms volumes are still just below the level seen in January 2015," IATA noted. “The strength of the US dollar continues to keep the US export market under pressure.”

The Middle East experienced demand slow for the third consecutive month to 1.2 percent year-over-year in September — the slowest pace since July 2009. The upward trend of recent years has now halted partly owing to weaker conditions in the Middle East-Asia and Middle East-North America markets.

Latin American airlines reported a 4.5 percent decline in demand coupled with a 4.7 percent reduction in capacity, with traffic within the region contracting by 14 percent in August, according to the latest data. The comparative strength of the US economy, meanwhile, has helped boost volumes between North and South America with US air imports from Colombia and Brazil rising by 5 percent and 13 percent year-over-year, respectively, in September.

African demand jumped 12.7 percent — the fastest rate in almost two years — while capacity soared by 34 percent on the back of longhaul expansion, particularly by Ethiopian Airlines and North African carriers.

Contact Bruce Barnard at brucebarnard47@hotmail.com.