Air freight demand accelerates in August

August 2014 statsBased on reports from some of the world’s major cargo carriers and airports, it looks safe to say that August was a very good month for the air freight industry.

Summary reports for August from  IATA, WorldACD, and the Airports Council International will not be published for another week or two, but the chart at right shows an overall pattern of solid growth in air freight demand.

There are a few exceptions, but they do not present significant contrary evidence to the growth trend. For example, while the big three European carriers – Air France, Lufthansa, and IAG – report either declines or minimal gains, Europe’s big airports show significant year-over-year increases. This is more an indication that the three carriers are losing market share, not that the market is not growing.

And we expect that once the carriers in the Avianca group report their August results it will be clear that the Latin American region is seeing overall growth, with Avianca taking market share from LATAM.

Missing from the chart are carriers and airports from the Middle East. However, it is likely that they will all continue to report solid gains, and we expect that when IATA, WorldACD, and ACI publish their August cargo reports, they will show accelerating growth in demand.

Now for the details…

Asia Pacific

Cathay Pacific Airways reported August cargo traffic up 20.6% y-o-y to 858 million RTKs. This is the sixth consecutive month in which Cathay has reported monthly year-over-year jumps of between 17% and 21% (after a flat January and February), and the carrier’s cargo traffic for the first eight months of 2014 was up 14.3% to 6.35 billion RTKs. Commenting on the August traffic report, Cathay Pacific General Manager Cargo Sales & Marketing Mark Sutch said: “Demand remained robust throughout August and the year-on-year tonnage increase was again well above expectations. Demand out of Hong Kong and the key manufacturing regions in Mainland China remained strong and we hope to see a further uptick in September as new consumer IT products are launched in the market. The Americas remain the key focus of our cargo business and we will extend our presence further with a new freighter service to Calgary and increased frequencies to Columbus in October, and more flights to Mexico from November.”

Hong Kong International Airport reported cargo volume in August up 8.8% y-o-y to 366,000 tonnes. Export volume was up 8.9% to 234,000 tonnes, while import volume was up 98.7% to 132,000 tonnes. For the year through August, HKIA’s handle was up 6.9% to 2.82 million tonnes. Commenting on the July results, HKIA said: “The growth in cargo throughput last month was driven mainly by transshipments, which were up 22% from a year ago. During the month, cargo throughput to/from Southeast Asia and Mainland China improved most significantly compared to other key regions.”

Beijing-based Air China reported August cargo traffic up 9.7% y-o-y to 468 million RTKs, continuing the pattern of steady growth it has seen for most of the year. International traffic in July was up 11.2% to 338 million RTKs while domestic traffic rose 4.0% to 119 million RTKs. For the first eight months of this year, Air China’s cargo traffic was up 8.1% to 3.49 billion RTKs.

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines another month of strong air freight demand growth, with August cargo traffic up 17.1% y-o-y to 435 million RTKs. International traffic jumped 20.0% to 291 million RTKs, while domestic traffic was up 11.6% to 143 million RTKs. For the year through August, China Southern’s cargo traffic was up 16.8% to 3.19 billion RTKs.

Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines reported August cargo traffic up 3.7% y-o-y to 424 million RTKs, reversing a four-month trend of negative growth and returning to the mid-single-digit growth the carrier reported in the first quarter. International traffic was up 6.5% to 339 million RTKs, while domestic traffic was down 7.6% to 74 million RTKs. For the first eight months of 2014, China Eastern’s cargo traffic was up slightly (0.2%) to 3.14 billion RTKs.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminals Co. Ltd (Pactl, the biggest cargo handler at PVG) reported its August handle up 22.1% to 128,000 tonnes. This follows jumps of between 13% and 15% for the first six months of the year and 23% in July, but we point out that some of the increase may have come through the addition of new customers rather than through organic growth. For August, Pactl’s international volume was up 23.0% to 120,000 tonnes, while the much smaller domestic volume was up 9.4% to 8,000 tonnes (most of Shanghai’s domestic cargo moves through nearby Hongqiao Airport). For the year through August, Pactl’s handle was up 16.0% to 944,000 tonnes.

Singapore Airlines reported August cargo traffic down 3.7% y-o-y to 521 million RTKs, continuing its long-term trend of mid-single-digit declines. For the year through August, SIA’s cargo traffic was down 3.8% to 4.14 billion RTKs.

Europe & Middle East

Lufthansa Cargoreported August traffic up slightly (0.9%) y-o-y to 716 million RTKs. For the Lufthansa Group as a whole, July cargo traffic was up 1.6% to 854 million RTKs. On a regional basis, Group cargo traffic was up 3.6% to 370 million RTKs on the trans-Atlantic lane, up 0.6% to 386 million RTKs on the Asia-Pacific lane, and up 1.3% to 69 million RTKs on the Middle East/Africa lane. For the first eight months of 2014, Lufthansa Cargo’s traffic was down 1.4% to 5.62 billion RTKs, while Group cargo traffic was down 0.4% to 6.69 billion RTKs. Lufthansa said its total cargo capacity in August was up slightly (0.4%), and cargo load factor rose 0.8 percentage points to 66.4%.

Air France-KLM reported August cargo traffic down 1.7%% y-o-y to 833 million RTKs. Traffic was down on both the carrier’s major trade lanes: down 1.5% to 351 million RTKs on the trans-Atlantic, and down 3.1% on the Asia-Pacific lane. Traffic to/from Africa & the Middle East rose 1.7% to 125 million RTKs. The August result continues the trend of small gains and declines seen so far this year, leaving the carrier’s cargo traffic for the first eight months down 0.3% to 6.61 billion RTKs.

International Airlines Group reported August cargo traffic down 4.6% y‑o‑y to 438 million RTKs. Subsidiary carrier British Airways reported its traffic for the month down 6.2% to 361 million RTKs. Given that BA returned all three of the 747-8Fs it leased from Atlas Air in early April, and switched to a block-space deal with Qatar Airways involving a single 777F, the fact that BA’s cargo traffic has fallen only by mid-single-digit percentages since then gives a fairly clear picture of why the carrier was keen to terminate the leases on the three jumbo freighters. IAG’s other subsidiary carrier, Iberia, reported its July cargo traffic up 4.1% to 77 million RTKs, For the year through August, IAG’s cargo traffic was down 2.7% to 3.58 billion RTKs.

Turkish Airlines reported August cargo volume up 17.6% y-o-y to 53,000 tonnes – well up from the 3% growth in July, but not at the 25% to 35% level Turkish reported in the first half of the year. For the first eight months of 2014, Turkish’s cargo volume was up 21.0% to 432,000 tonnes.

Frankfurt Airport (FRA) reported its July cargo handle up 3.2% y-o-y to 180,000 tonnes. For the first eight months of 2014, FRA’s handle was up 2.2% to 1.42 million tonnes.

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported its August handle up 7.5% y-o-y to 123,000 tonnes. For the year through August, LHR’s handle was up 5.0% to 978,000 tonnes.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport continues to report solid gains, with its August handle up 6.4% to 138,000 tonnes. For the first eight months of the year, AMS’ handle was up 8.6% to 1.1 million tonnes.


LATAM Airlines Group reported July cargo traffic down 1.9% y-o-y to 344 million RTKs, continuing a year-long trend of declining cargo traffic. Commenting on the result, the company said the cargo traffic decrease was driven by weaker imports into Latin America. LATAM also noted that cargo capacity was down 5.6%, “a result of a reduced freighter operation in addition to decreased availability in the bellies of passenger aircraft..” For the first eight months of the year, LATAM’s cargo traffic was down 3.5% to 2.81 billion RTKs.

United Airlines reported August cargo traffic up 25.8% to 298 million RTKs. This marks the tenth month of a turnaround that started in November 2013. Prior to that point, United had for some time been reporting what may have been the worst results for any major cargo carrier in the world. Its cargo traffic for the first ten months of 2013 was down over 12% from 2012, and 2012 itself was a terrible year. Until July, the carrier’s cargo traffic growth during the turnaround was in the mid-single-digit range, but July saw a jump of almost 30%, and clearly, whatever fueled that jump carried on through August. For the first eight months of 2014, United’s cargo traffic was up 9.1% to 2.34 billion RTKs

Delta Air Lines reported August cargo traffic up 5.4% y-o-y to 344 million RTKs. For the first eight months of 2014, Delta’s cargo traffic was up 1.1% to 2.28 billion RTKs.

American Airlines (now including US Airways) reported August cargo traffic up 1.7% to 298 million RTKs. As is the case with United, this is a continuation of a trend of growth, although for American the growth began earlier and was, until last month, stronger. The August gain of 1.7% is well below the average gain American has been reporting over the last eighteen months. For the year through August, American’s cargo traffic was up 8.2% to 2.25 billion RTKs.

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