Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways reported 2016 cargo volume unchanged from 2015 at 593,000 tonnes. This is in stark contrast to the incredible growth Etihad has reported in previous years, but right in line with what is happening in neighboring Dubai, where Emirates is reporting a similar halt to growth. In the five years from 2009 to 2014, Etihad’s cargo traffic grew at an annualized rate of 25%. Obviously, growth at that rate cannot go on forever, but the rapid deceleration to 6.9% growth in 2015, and to no growth at all in 2016, has been almost shocking – all the more so given that air freight demand worldwide has increased in each of the last two years.
At Emirates, the story is similar, though the drop-off has been less steep because Emirate’s years of huge gains came earlier. But after reporting a 5.6% YoY increase in cargo traffic in its 2015/2016 fiscal year, the most recent data (for the first half of FY16/17) is the same as Etihad’s: zero growth. The exception to this Gulf-region trend is Doha-based Qatar Airways, which is still reporting double-digit year-over-year gains, but for Emirates and Etihad, the days of easy pickings appear to be gone.
Not only is this a big change for these two carriers, but it reflects a significant shift in traffic flows. For many years, the cargo growth at carriers based in the Middle East came from taking market share from the European and Asian carriers that had formerly dominated the Asia-Europe trade lane. But now, as Emirates and Etihad report an end to growth, European and Asian carriers are seeing demand for their cargo offerings increase.