IATA cautioned, however, that the increase was from an exceptionally low base caused by the timing of the Chinese New Year when many export-oriented Asian factories close. The weeklong holiday, which took place in February this year, occurred in January 2012, which skewed the year-over-year comparison with January 2013.
January traffic fell 0.9 percent from December, while capacity grew 2.1 percent from a year ago; the global load factor stood at 41.9 percent.
Despite the caveats, IATA said the market is showing signs of stabilizing after shrinking 1.5 percent in 2012.
“The air freight business is showing some encouraging signs. But it’s too early to be overly optimistic,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s chief executive.
While the market has bottomed out, overall volumes are still below the levels of 2010 and 2011, he said.
“Load factors are low. And the global economy is fragile. Our forecast remains for modest growth demand of 1.4 percent. But with weak load factors, yields are going to be under severe downward pressure.”
Asia-Pacific carriers, which have a market share of nearly 40 percent, booked year-over-year growth of 7.1 percent in January with 0.4 percent less capacity. Adjusting for the effect of the Chinese New Year, they saw demand growth of around 3 percent. The region’s airlines have accounted for about 60 percent of the market growth since October, driven by the pickup in the Chinese economy and stronger global demand for products from South Korea and Taiwan.
North American airlines saw modest 0.6 percent growth in January, while capacity was trimmed by 1 percent. They have contributed 15 percent of the global increase in demand since October as U.S. consumers become more positive about their economic prospects.
European carriers boosted traffic by 1.2 percent in January, half the 2.4 percent growth in capacity. The persistent economic weakness in the eurozone — a major market for air freight consumer goods — is dampening world trade growth and will limit growth in air cargo volumes in 2013, IATA said.
The Middle East continued to outpace other regions, with its airlines boosting traffic by 15.3 percent over January 2012, ahead of a 12.4 percent increase in capacity.
Latin American carriers were the only regional grouping to report lower traffic, down 1.6 percent on January 2012 on a 10.2 percent increase in capacity as airlines from outside the region enter the market.