SkyCargo hits the brakes as other carriers go full-throttle

SkyCargo, the cargo arm of Dubai-based Emirates, reported cargo volume flat y-o-y, at 1.3 million tonnes in the first half (ended 30 September) of its current fiscal year. Volume was not the only disappointment for the carrier, with net profit in the half down 75% to US$214 million, as revenue fell 1% to $11.4 billion. So what is happening here?

Emirates' cargo handle was flat during the first half of its fiscal year. Has Sky Cargo's growth plateaued?

Emirates’ cargo handle was flat during the first half of its fiscal year. Has SkyCargo’s growth plateaued?

From a fleet perspective, Emirates Sky Cargo made no changes to its fleet. It continues to operate two 747-400Fs, thirteen 777Fs and three MD-11Fs. On the passenger side, Emirates took delivery of eight A380s and eight 777Fs while retiring 19 older aircraft, which were mostly A330s and A340s.

In recent years SkyCargo has almost always tracked or outperformed the global average for airfreight traffic growth, but these figures suggest that the first half of fiscal year 2017 might be an exception. Since April, which was the first month in Emirates’ FY17 calendar, carriers based in the Middle East reported total FTK growth of no less than 5.8% y-o-y each month, according to IATA monthly statistics. Even though SkyCargo is reporting tonnage and not traffic, it is unlikely that the two figures are completely delinked.

SkyCargo blames the “impact of a strong US dollar and challenging operating environment,” which are indeed valid explanations, but Cargo Facts suspects this is not the entire story. After all, the group’s handling arm, dnata, managed to fare better during the first half. dnata saw its cargo handle jump 28% to 1.2 million tonnes, which drove revenues up 14% to $1.6 billion.  Given dnata handles for other carriers besides just Emirates, the results suggest that air cargo volumes are still there. What else then may explain flat volumes at SkyCargo? Perhaps it is also the result of increased push back from European carriers.

Returning to the IATA data for example, cargo traffic flown by carriers based in Europe was up 12.6% year-over-year in September.  As we have previously noted, Europe’s big three alone cannot account for this traffic growth. Although their traffic figures are opaque, we know that Turkish Airlines and AirBridgeCargo have been regularly reporting monthly y-o-y air freight demand growth in excess of 20%. Cargolux does not report on a regular basis, but has occasionally indicated cargo growth of between 10% and 20%. And although there is no data available, we expect that the European carriers that fly in support of the express companies are also seeing big gains.

For the “other” European carriers, September and October seem to be no exception to the trend of high double-digit growth. Turkish reported its cargo handle up 19.5% year-to-date in October to 701,000 tonnes. AirBridge meanwhile, said tonnage was up 30% y-o-y in October to 57,608 tonnes. Year-to-date, the Russia-based carrier reported volumes up 29% to 483,000 tonnes. Robert van de Weg, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing at ABC’s parent, Volga-Dnepr Group, said ABC’s solutions are “increasingly for special cargo categories like pharmaceuticals and off-size cargo.” Other carriers have likely taken notice.

For Emirates SkyCargo, was this period an anomaly, or has the carrier’s cargo handle plateaued? Stay tuned.

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