The global air cargo market grew to a five-year high in 2016 but is facing the twin threats of stagnant world trade and protectionism, the International Air Transport Association said.
Traffic, measured in freight tonne kilometres, rose by 3.8 percent last year, nearly double the average growth rate of 2 percent over the past five years, but trailed the 5.3 percent increase in freight capacity, according to the industry body.
All regions, except Latin America, posted positive figures, with European carriers accounting for almost half of the total increase in freight shipments.
After a weak start to 2016, volumes took off in the second half of the year, driven by a strong peak season, rising shipments of silicon materials, and a rebound in new export orders. The early timing of the Chinese New Year in January this year also likely pushed up demand in December.
“In terms of demand, 2016 was a good year for air cargo. That was boosted by solid year-end performance. Looking ahead, strong export orders are good news,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.
“But there are headwinds. The most significant is stagnant world trade, which also faces the risk of protectionist measures. Governments must not forget that trade is a powerful tool for growth and prosperity.”
The industry must also improve its competitiveness, de Juniac said. “We know that the way forward is defined by digital processes, which will drive efficiency and improve customer satisfaction. We must use the momentum of renewed demand growth to drive the important innovations of the e-cargo vision.”
European airlines boosted 2016 traffic by 7.6 percent in 2016, helped by a 16.4 percent year-over-year surge in December. European airports showed similar strength as top air cargo hubs posted modest growth and some reversed declines in the previous year. Medium-sized airports on the continent booked significant increases that were driven by rising express deliveries and surging e-commerce shipments.
Asia-Pacific carriers posted a 2.1 percent increase in 2016 traffic, down from a 2.3 percent rise in 2015, while North American airlines’ freight volume grew 2 percent last year, up from 1.3 percent in 2015.
Middle East carriers posted an annual increase of 6.9 percent, the second-largest regional growth, boosted by an 11.2 percent jump in December shipments.
Latin American airlines’ freight shipments contracted by 4.2 percent, the second consecutive yearly decline, as the region remains blighted by weak economic and political conditions, particularly in Brazil, its largest economy.
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