2018 starts with strong demand – what about Chinese New Year?

As we always point out at this time of year, air freight demand growth statistics for January must be treated with considerable skepticism. The variable timing of the Chinese New Year holiday can push traffic that would normally move in January to February, or vice versa. Therefore, it makes sense to wait for the February data before reaching any conclusions.

This year, with the holiday falling in mid-February, one might expect shippers to have scrambled to get their goods into and out of the country early – thereby inflating the January numbers. However, as you will read below, Cathay’s Ronald Lam said his carrier found the pre-holiday rush “softer than anticipated.”

Whether this was also the case for other carriers and airports remains to be seen, and, until February’s results are in, all we will say is that the strong demand we saw last year seems to be continuing.

Now for the details…

Asia Pacific

Cathay Pacific Airways reported January cargo traffic up 10.5% y-o-y to 954 million RTKs. Discussing the results, Cathay’s Director Commercial and Cargo Ronald Lam said: “Our cargo business got off to a solid start in 2018. As expected, airfreight volumes subsided a little after the year-end peak, but overall, markets remained relatively buoyant in January. The pre-Chinese New Year rush out of Hong Kong and mainland China was a little softer than anticipated, but this enabled the carriage of more trans-shipment across our network. The inbound load factor improved across all route groups, with overall tonnage growing ahead of capacity. In terms of products, the flow of perishables into Asia and e-commerce movements from the region continued to be healthy in the lead up to the Chinese New Year holiday period.”

Beijing-based Air China reported January cargo traffic up 19.0% y-o-y, to 663 million RTKs, a stronger gain than anything it reported last year, but likely influenced by the timing of the Chinese New Year holiday. International traffic was up 21.8% over January 2017 to 499 million RTKs, while domestic traffic increased 11.2% to 154 million RTKs.

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines reported January cargo and mail traffic up slightly (0.7%) y-o-y to 605 million RTKs. This is in line with December’s growth rate, but well down from the double-digit full-year growth the carrier reported in 2017.  International traffic in January was up 0.3% y-o-y to 453 million RTKs, while domestic traffic rose 1.85% to 150 million RTKs.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminal Co Ltd (Pactl, the biggest handler at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport) reported its January handle up 13.4% y-o-y to 157,000 tonnes. This is on par with some of its strongest gains last year, but we point out that with the Chinese New Year falling in mid-February, some cargo that normally would have moved in February will have been shifted to January.

Singapore Airlines reported January cargo traffic up 4.5% y-o-y to 524 million RTKs. Commenting on the results, the carrier said January load factors improved across most regions, except Americas and Europe, as demand outpaced capacity changes.

Taiwan-based China Airlines reported January cargo traffic up 2.3% y-o-y to 436 million RTKs. The carrier’s cargo revenue growth continues to outpace traffic, up 14.3% y-o-y in January.

Taiwan-based EVA Air reported January cargo traffic up 1.5% y-o-y to 297 million RTKs. Cargo revenue for the month was up 14.6% higher over January 2017.

South Korea’s Incheon Airport reported its January cargo handle up 6.6% to 233,000 tonnes.

Europe & Middle East

Lufthansa reported Group cargo traffic up 9.3% y-o-y in January to 807 million RTKs. Traffic on the Asia-Pacific lane was up 9.0% to 377 million RTKs, while traffic on the trans-Atlantic lane grew11.3% to 346 million RTKs. The lowest growth for the month – a 2.4% increase to 57 million RTKs – was in traffic to/from the Middle East/Africa region.

Air France-KLM Martinair reported January cargo traffic up slightly (0.7%) y-o-y to 662 million RTKs. Air France reported January traffic up 1.1% to 280 million RTKs, while KLM’s traffic increased just 0.4% to 382 million RTKs.

International Airlines Group reported January cargo traffic down slightly (0.6%) y-o-y to 431 million RTKs. Subsidiary carrier British Airways reported January cargo traffic down 2.3% to 340 million RTKs, but this was almost balanced by a 6.6% gain at Spain-based Iberia to 81 million RTKs. Ireland-based Aer Lingus reported January cargo traffic flat with 2017, at 10 million RTKs.

Turkish Airlines reported January cargo volume up 33.5% y-o-y to 86,000 tonnes. Turkish has reported the strongest year-over-year growth among major carriers for several years now, and while we will have to wait for February’s results to wash out any impact from the timing of the Chinese New Year holiday, it looks like the pattern of strong growth is continuing into 2018.

Frankfurt Airport (FRA) reported its air cargo and mail handle up 1.3% y-o-y to 171,000 tonnes in January.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport reported its January cargo handle down 1.6% y-o-y to 133,000 tonnes, on the loss of full-freighter flights related to recently-imposed slot restrictions at the airport. The number of full-freighter flights in January 2018 was 7.2% lower than in 2017 with a reduction of 106 freighter movements.

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported its January handle up 6.9% to 133,000 tonnes.


After two months of small year-over-year declines in air freight demand late last year, Chile-headquartered LATAM Airlines Group returned to slight growth in December, and that growth picked up in 2018 with the carrier reporting January cargo traffic up 5.0% y-o-y to 295 million RTKs.

United Airlines reported January cargo traffic up 9.2% y-o-y to 372 million RTKs, continuing an almost two-year period of strong gains.

The turnaround plan at Delta Air Lines continues to pay off. The Atlanta-based carrier reported January cargo traffic up 3.4% y-o-y to 226 million RTKs – its tenth consecutive monthly y-o-y gain after years of declining demand.

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