What next?

For any airline with cargo capacity available on the trans-Pacific lane, February was a very good month.

As we reported last week, our analysis of February results from some of the world’s major cargo carriers and airports led us to conclude that while there may have been a modest impact from the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, the big driver of the increase in air freight demand in February appeared to be the buildup of a significant backup at the US West Coast ocean ports. That is, carriers with a strong focus on the trans-Pacific lane reported huge increases in cargo traffic, while carriers focused on Asia-Europe or the trans-Atlantic did not fare nearly as well.

Yesterday, Netherlands-based air cargo data service WorldACD published its report on February cargo trends, and reached a similar conclusion.

As shown in the chart at right, WorldACD reported overall cargo volume in February up 8.0%. But while the chart shows only the overall total, WorldACD was clear in its assessment that the February improvement was “almost exclusively driven from origins in the Asia Pacific,” with most of that traffic going to destinations in North America.

Summing up the combined January and February results, WorldACD said: “No doubt, the main trend is the effect the port problems in America have on air cargo.”

Assuming the tentative agreement reached by the longshore workers’ union and the PMA is approved by union members, the backlog at the West Coast ports will clear within another month or so, but air freight demand in April, and to a lesser extent in May, will continue to receive a boost. But then what?

Once combined data from January and February are available – eliminating the impact of the timing of the Lunar New Year – it is usually possible to see how the year is shaping up, but in 2015 the impact of the labor strife at the US ports has been strong enough to mask any underlying trends. At this point, it is difficult to make predictions with any certainty.

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