Champagne time?

It’s 31 December, the last day of 2014, and time to take a look back at what seems – at first glance – to have been a very good year for the air freight industry. But is it really time to bring out the Champagne? Let’s take a closer look.

Beginning in the third quarter of 2013, airlines, airports, and handlers began reporting year-over-year increases in cargo flown or handled. The gains, which started off very small, became significant in early 2014, and we expect that when all the numbers are in, worldwide demand for airfreight for the full year will be up about 5% over 2013.

Etihad Airways had already set a full-year cargo record by the end of November. Photo: Airbus/H. Gousse

Etihad Airways had already set a full-year cargo record by the end of November. Photo: Airbus/H. Gousse

Many players have set monthly records along the way, and some will also set full-year records. In fact, several airlines and airports had already set full-year records by the end of November! On top of that, by all accounts we have just wrapped up a strong peak season.

Pretty exciting stuff for an industry that has suffered through unhappy times recently. Exciting, that is, until you put the numbers in historical context.

For most of the last thirty years, until 2007…

  • A 5% gain would have been seen as a bit below average. Not bad, but nothing worth talking about.
  • Record-breaking cargo volumes were expected. Every year was expected to be better than the year before.
  • A strong peak was simply part of the annual pattern. The only time peak season made the news was if it wasn’t strong.

Since 2007, the airfreight industry has seen far more declines than gains, and we have become used to “the new normal” of unpredictable – and mostly negative – swings in demand. It speaks volumes about what we’ve been through that a performance that would have been seen as normal only a few years ago is now treated as a reason to pop the Champagne corks.

Welcome to the “old normal.”

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