IATA: 2017 air freight traffic up 9%, expected to slow to 4.5% in 2018

Date: Friday, February 2, 2018
Source: Air Transport World

Strong demand for manufacturing exports stoked the air freight sector to its best performance in seven years, as global cargo traffic grew 9% year-over-year (YOY) in 2017, according to IATA’s December Air Freight Market Analysis, released Jan. 31.

Comparatively, in 2016, air freight traffic increased 3.6%.

Worldwide air cargo capacity, meanwhile, increased 3% in 2017, leading to a global freight load factor of 45.5%, up 2.5 points from 2016. Annual air cargo capacity growth in 2017 was its slowest since 2012.

IATA senior economist David Oxley noted the air cargo sector’s growth was more than twice as fast as world trade volumes (4.3%) in 2017, reflecting an improved environment for manufacturers linked to the global restocking cycle as well as resurgent investment.

“Air cargo had its strongest performance since the rebound from the global financial crisis in 2010. [At] 9%, that outpaced the industry-wide growth in both cargo capacity and in passenger demand,” IATA DC and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said. “The outlook for air freight in 2018 is optimistic … we see growing strength in international e-commerce and the transport of time and temperature sensitive goods such as pharmaceuticals.”

“All told, we expect industry-wide FTK growth in 2018 as a whole to come in close to its five-year average pace in the region of 4.5%,” Oxley said. “After the strong growth performance seen in 2017 this would be a robust outcome.”

De Juniac acknowledged that challenges remain, citing a needed industry-wide evolution to more efficient processes. “Expectations of shippers and consumers [will] grow ever more demanding,” de Juniac said.

By pace of growth, African carriers had the best performance in 2017, with international freight traffic improving 25.2% YOY, compared to 3.7% in 2016. Traffic between Asia and Africa surged nearly 64% in 2017, IATA said, based on ongoing foreign investment flows into Africa from Asia.

International air cargo traffic in Europe was up 11.9%, up from 7.2% in 2016, reflecting rising demand for European product exports. Oxley said manufacturing firms in the eurozone are now reporting that their export order books are growing at their fastest pace on record.

North American carriers saw a 7.9% increase in international cargo operations during the year, driven, IATA said, by an improved inbound freight market responding to a strengthening US economy and US dollar in recent years. Oxley noted the recent US tax reforms may boost volumes in 2018, but cautioned this could be offset by the recent weakening trend for the US dollar. 

In the biggest international air freight market, Asia-Pacific carriers saw 8.7% traffic growth in 2017, compared to 1.5% in 2016 as Chinese and Japanese manufacturers reported increased export demand throughout 2017, IATA said. 

For all three of these regions, however, Oxley cautioned that the YOY growth seen mainly reflects increases seen earlier in 2017. In Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America, seasonally adjusted volumes have generally slowed or tracked sideways during the second-half of the year, Oxley said.

Latin American air freight traffic rebounded in 2017, growing 5.7% YOY following two years of dropping traffic in the region, as Brazil’s economy showed signs of recovery during the year.

Middle East carriers saw an 8.1% rise in international air freight traffic during the year, compared to 6.5% in 2016. Oxley noted, however, that the region did not have as strong an upward trend in traffic during the first part of 2017 as had the other regions, and consequently, the region’s share of global traffic flown fell for the first time in 18 years (to 13.7%).

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