The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data for global air freight markets showing a 3.2% expansion in freight tonne kilometers (FTKs) in January 2015 compared to the same month last year. The growth is slower than the average of 4.5% recorded for 2014.
There was much regional variation in the January performance. Asia-Pacific, African and Middle Eastern airlines expanded strongly, but airlines in Europe and North and Latin America all reported demand contractions. Although it is too early to be certain of a trend towards weaker air freight, there are at least two emerging factors which could negatively impact demand for air cargo in the coming months:
Business confidence has been declining since mid-2014 and export orders tailed-off towards the end of the year
A reversal of the positive trade-to-domestic production ratio which boosted cargo volumes last year
“January was a disappointing start to the year for air cargo. And it is difficult to be too optimistic about the rest of the year given the economic headwinds in Europe and growing concerns over the Chinese economy. Add to that the continuing trends of on-shoring production and trade protectionism and 2015 is shaping up to be another tough year for air cargo,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
Regional analysis in detail
Asia-Pacific carriers grew their FTKs 6.9% compared to January 2014, supported by an improvement in regional import activity. Japan’s expansion is helping regional volumes, but there could be concerns over the Chinese economy, which saw export orders contracting at the fastest pace in three years. Capacity rose 5.4%.
European airlines saw volumes fall 1.2% compared to a year ago. The Eurozone is facing deflationary economic headwinds and the weakness of the Russian economy is also impacting demand. Weak home demand is not being offset by North Atlantic and Asian growth opportunities. Capacity grew 3.6%, further weakening the load factor.
North American carriers experienced a 1.0% fall in FTKs. This decrease, however, is most likely due to the strong result that occurred in January 2014. Underlying trends for North American volumes are positive. Trade is growing and the month-to-month comparison of FTKs shows expansion in January compared to December. Capacity fell 2.8%, continuing the recent trend of improving load factor.
Middle Eastern carriers expanded FTKs 9.2%. The hub strategies of the leading airlines in the region are proving successful as network and capacity expansions help satisfy demand on international routes and serve inward trade to Middle Eastern economies. Capacity jumped 18.1%.
Latin American airlines suffered a 6.4% fall in FTKs compared to January 2014. The region continues to be affected by the weakness in the key economies of Brazil and Argentina. Although other Latin American markets have increased regional trade in recent months, this has not yet translated into increased air freight demand. Capacity fell 2.0%.
African airlines grew cargo volumes 5.2%. While major economies such as Nigeria and South Africa are under-performing, regional trade activity is holding up. Capacity rose just 2.4%, strengthening the load factor.