In recent months, overall gains have been driven by gains in international traffic, while domestic traffic has been generally flat with last year. In April, however, domestic traffic was up 3.7%, while international traffic was up 3.1%. For the first four months of the year, cargo traffic worldwide was up 4.2%, led by 4.5% growth in international traffic, while domestic traffic was up 2.2%.
The 3.2% growth is in line with what many in the industry feel is going to be the new normal, but IATA remains somewhat negative in its commentary, saying that while developed economies are still maintaining post-recession momentum, there has been an economic slowdown in the emerging markets, particularly China. Further, traffic levels have been flat or decreasing slightly on a month-to-month basis this year, and IATA points out that “in the second half of 2013, acceleration in air freight demand was supported by improvements in the business environment, which included a pick-up in world trade growth. During more recent months, however, data show weakening in business activity measures and a pause in trade volume expansion, which is consistent with the flattening in the air freight growth trend.” However, IATA Director General Tony Tyler did say “the expectation is for a stronger finish to the year.”
Looking at the first quarter results by geographic region:
Middle East: As has been the case for the last few years, carriers from the Middle East are reporting strong growth in their cargo business, with traffic up 8.7% y-o-y in April. While impressive, this is a bit of a fall-off from the double digit gains carriers based in the region have previously reported. For the first quarter of 2014, Middle East-based carriers reported their cargo traffic up 10.9%
Asia-Pacific: Airlines based in the Asia-Pacific region have long carried the greatest share of global cargo traffic (about 40%), and they continue to do so. However, in the last few years, they have faced ever-increasing competition from carriers based in the Middle East, and this, combined with the weak demand environment led to declining traffic. Beginning in January, and continuing through the first four months of 2014, Asia’s carriers have reversed this trend, and are now reporting solid growth, as shown by the 5.2% increase in cargo traffic in April, and 4.2% for the year to date. IATA said that the continuing slowdown of China’s manufacturing sector, and that “there are also some early signs of sluggishness in Emerging Asia trade volumes – after acceleration toward the end of 2013, export volumes have been in continuous decline throughout 2014.” To what extent this will impact growth in demand for air freight remains to be seen.
Europe: Recovery from the fear of political and/or economic disaster that gripped Europe last year led to solid growth in air freight demand in late 2013 and early 2014. However, trade activity leveled off in April, and European carriers’ cargo traffic was down slightly (0.7%) y-o-y. For the first four months of 2014, European carriers’ cargo traffic was up 3.9%. Looking ahead. IATA said: “Indicators of business activity and economic growth suggest that the second quarter of 2014 will be stronger than the start of the year, which in turn suggests an improvement in the demand backdrop for air freighted goods.”
North America: Carriers in this region continue to report modest increases in cargo traffic, with April 2014 up 2.6% over April 2013. For the first four months of the year, North American carriers’ cargo traffic was up 1.4%. Regarding the outlook for the second quarter, IATA said: “Latest data show a rebound in trade volumes and underlying growth trends in business activity are positive, which could support stronger growth in trade and air freight demand ahead.”
Latin America: Trade in the Latin American region has begun to deteriorate, and this has curtailed air freight demand for the region’s carriers, which reported cargo traffic down 6.5% y-o-y in April, after a strong start to the year. For the first four months of 2014, Latin American carriers reported their cargo traffic up 1.3%.
Africa: Air freight demand in Africa remains volatile, with cargo traffic growing in one month and declining the next. In April, cargo traffic for the region’s carriers was up 3.2%, but for the first four months of the year the gain was just 1.4%.