Middle East Carriers lead November demand growth

IATA November 2014 summaryThe International Air Transport Association released its air freight market analysis for November 2014, showing an overall 4.2% year-over-year increase in worldwide cargo traffic. The growth was driven by a 4.6% increase in international traffic, while domestic traffic was up just 1.3%. At first glance, the November data point to a weaker performance than was reported in October (up 5.4% y-o-y), but November 2013 presented a much stronger comparison. For the first eleven months of 2014, IATA reported total cargo traffic worldwide up 4.4%.

Overall, the rate of growth in November follows the pattern established in mid-2013 when a long-standing trend of decline was reversed. At first the gains were minimal, but since October 2013, IATA has reported year-over-year growth each month of between about 3% and 6%.

We also note that November data gathered by Netherlands-based WorldACD show air freight demand in November to be up 4.3% – almost identical to IATA’s 4.2%. IATA and WorldACD collect data in different ways. IATA gathers reports of cargo traffic (in revenue tonne kilometers flown) from member airlines, while WorldACD gathers cargo volume data (in tonnes) directly from the airwaybills of over fifty carriers. Given this difference in reporting, one should not place too much importance on the exactness of the match, but it seems safe to say that we saw solid, but unspectacular growth in air freight demand in November. However, that demand growth was not accompanied by growth in yield. In fact, as WorldACD points out, yield was down 4% y-o-y in November.

Looking ahead, IATA was fairly optimistic that growth would continue, although, as always, the optimism came with a few caveats. “More goods are being traded internationally and that is fueling the growth in air freight. It was clear in November that most of that growth is being captured by carriers in the dynamic and relatively business- friendly Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. This year we expect air freight markets to expand by 4.5%, outpacing projected growth in world trade (4.0%). But that optimism is tempered by the many macro-economic and political risks that continue to impact trade flows.”

On a geographical basis, as is clearly shown in the chart above, the November results were wildly uneven, ranging from the double-digit growth reported by carriers in the Middle East, to almost no growth in Europe, and slight declines in the Americas.

Middle East: Carriers from the Middle East have reported stronger growth than carriers from any other region for several years now, and that pattern continued in November, with Middle East-based airlines seeing a 13.0% y-o-y increase in cargo traffic. The strong performance was partly the result of growth in intra-regional trade, but, as has long been the case, the main driver was the ability of the big carriers in the Gulf region to leverage their geographic location as a hub to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Asia-Pacific: Since the beginning of 2014, airlines based in the Asia-Pacific region have shown positive growth, reversing a several-year trend of declines. This trend of growth continued strongly in November, with carriers reporting cargo traffic up 5.9%. A strong peak season helped, as did an increase in trade volumes in the region’s emerging economies. Given that Asia Pacific carriers account for about 40% of global cargo traffic, the growth they are reporting is providing a solid boost to the worldwide total.

Europe: The Eurozone continues to teeter on the verge of recession, and this, combined with economic sanctions imposed as a result of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, has dampened trade. However, the region’s carriers nonetheless reported a slight (0.9.%) growth in air freight traffic in November.

North America: After a weak start to the year, carriers in this region returned to solid growth in July through October, but that trend ended in November, when the region’s carriers reported their cargo traffic down 0.3% y-o-y. This reversal comes despite the obvious strength of the North American economies, and is an indication that the region’s carriers are losing market share to carriers from the Asia Pacific.

Latin America:  Economic weakness, particularly in Brazil and Argentina, but also in some of the smaller economies, has taken its toll on demand for air freight, and the region’s carriers reported traffic down 0.7% in November.

Africa: Air freight demand in Africa was volatile through the first eight months of 2014, with cargo traffic growing in one month and declining the next, since August, the region’s carriers have been reporting y-o-y gains in the 10% range. This trend continued in November, which saw growth of 10.3%.

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