Global air freight markets slowed in October with demand, measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTKs), up 5.9 per cent in October 2017, year-on-year, but down from the 9.2 per cent y-o-y growth of September 2017, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The figure, still very respectable, was also well above the average annual growth rate of 3.2 per cent of the past decade.
Freight capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres (AFTKs), rose by 3.7 per cent year-on-year in October. This was the 15th consecutive month in which demand growth outstripped capacity growth, which is positive for load factors, yields, and financial performance.
While cargo demand remains strong, several indicators show that we may have passed the growth peak. The inventory-to-sales ratio in the US is tracking sideways, indicating that the period when companies look to restock inventories quickly — which often gives air cargo a boost—has ended. The new export orders component of the global Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is stable. And the upward trend in seasonally adjusted freight volumes has moderated.
Freight volumes are still expected to grow in 2018, although at a slower pace than in 2017, IATA said.
Noting the October growth, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO said “tightening supply conditions in the fourth quarter should see the air cargo industry deliver its strongest operational and financial performance since the post-global financial crisis rebound in 2010.”
Airlines in all regions reported an increase in total year-on-year demand in October. However, in contrast, international freight growth slowed in all regions except Africa.
Asia-Pacific airlines saw freight volumes increase by 4.4 per cent and capacity expanded by 3.9 per cent in October 2017, compared to the same period last year. Demand for freight is now around 3.0 per cent higher than the peak reached in the post-financial crisis rebound in 2010.
The region’s manufacturers continue to enjoy buoyant order books. And the major exporters in China and Japan are reporting growing backlogs supported in part by stronger economic activity in Europe.
North American carriers posted an increase in freight volumes of 6.6 per cent for October. This was a slowdown from the 7.4 per cent recorded in September but still ahead of the five-year average pace of growth. Capacity increased 3.8 per cent.
The strength of the US economy and the US dollar has boosted the inbound freight market in recent years. Data from the US Census Bureau shows an 11.6 per cent year-on-year increase in air imports to the US in the first nine months of 2017, compared to a slower rise in export orders of 6.5 per cent.
European airlines posted a 6.4 per cent increase in freight demand in October 2017 on the back of a 2.5 per cent growth in capacity. This was a marked slowdown from the 10.6 per cent growth in demand in September, however it was still above the five-year average of 9.0 per cent.
Concerns that the recent strengthening of the euro might have affected the region’s exporters have not materialised yet, IATA said. Europe’s manufacturers’ export orders are growing at their fastest pace in more than seven years. Freight demand remains very healthy on transatlantic routes and is strong on routes to and from Asia – having received a boost in trade from the economic stimulus measures put in place by China.
Middle Eastern carriers’ year-on-year freight volumes increased 4.6 per cent in October and capacity increased 3.4 per cent. During the same period international freight volumes slowed to 4.7 per cent from 9.2 per cent the previous month. The recent volatility produced by the region in the year-on-year growth rate for international freight volumes is due to developments in demand in 2016 rather than a marked change in the current traffic trend. In fact, seasonally adjusted international freight volumes have continued to trend upwards at a rate of 8-10 per cent over the past six months.
Latin American airlines experienced a growth in demand of 7.2 per cent in October and a capacity increase of 4.4 per cent compared to the same period in 2016. International freight volumes rose by 7.7 per cent over the same period. This is nearly nine times the five-year average rate of 0.9 per cent. The pick-up in demand reflects signs of recovery in the region’s largest economy, Brazil. Seasonally adjusted international freight volumes are now back to the levels seen at the end of 2014.
African carriers posted the largest year-on-year increase in demand of all regions in October, with freight volumes rising 30.3 per cent while capacity increased 9.2 per cent. During the same period international freight volumes grew by 28.5 per cent. This is more than three times the five-year average growth pace of 9.4 per cent. Demand has been boosted by very strong growth on the trade lane to and from Asia, which increased by more than 67 per cent in the first nine months of the year.