April: the beat goes on for cargo traffic

If we had posted the chart at right one year ago – that is, representing air freight demand growth for April 2016 – the results would have seemed so good as to be almost unbelievable. This year, growth that will likely average close double digits in April is, well, almost disappointing after the 15% gains we saw in March.

Demand growth in the first quarter of 2016 had been negative, and the 3.2% increase in April cargo traffic worldwide came as a great relief. Twelve months later, based on the April results from the carriers and airports so far reporting, we expect that when IATA and WorldACD publish their analyses in two weeks, we will see worldwide air freight demand up by about 10% – down from the 15% increase in March, but right in line with the first quarter as a whole.

Now for the details…

Asia Pacific

Beijing-based Air China reported April cargo traffic up 6.3% y-o-y, to 620 million RTKs. International traffic was up 7.1% over April 2016, to 471 million RTKs, while domestic traffic was 4.1% higher, at 139 million RTKs. The much smaller regional traffic was flat (-0.1%) at 9.5 million RTKs. For the year through April, Air China’s cargo traffic was up 5.0% to 2.25 billion RTKs.

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines reported April cargo traffic up 16.8% y-o-y to 608 million RTKs. The overall growth came on the back of a 23.3% jump in international traffic to 465 million RTKs, while domestic traffic was down slightly (0.7%) to 141 million RTKs. For the first four months of the year, China Southern cargo traffic was up 15.0% to 2.16 billion RTKs.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminal Co Ltd (Pactl, the biggest handler at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport) reported a 9.6% y-o-y increase in its April cargo handle to 152,000 tonnes. International volume for the month was up 10.9% to 145,000 tonnes, while the much smaller domestic volume was down 10.8% to 8,000 tonnes (most of Shanghai’s domestic cargo moves through nearby Hongqiao Airport). For the first four months of 2017, Pactl’s handle was up 11.3% to 564,000 tonnes.

Taiwan-based China Airlines reported a slight increase to its April cargo traffic, which rose 1.2% y-o-y to 466 million RTKs, the ninth month of increased traffic after a long period of declining demand. Year-to-date, CAL’s cargo traffic was up 6.6% to 1.75 billion RTKs.

Taiwan-based EVA Air reported April cargo traffic up 1.8% y-o-y to 299 million RTKs. This is a smaller increase than EVA has seen in the first three months of this year, but nonetheless marks the carrier’s eleventh consecutive positive result after a long period of declines. For the year to date, EVA’s cargo traffic was up 5.6% to 1.15 billion RTKs.

South Korea’s Incheon Airport reported its April cargo handle up 9.7%, to 246,000 tonnes. Year-to-date, ICN’s handle was up 11.5% to 932,000 tonnes.

Europe & Middle East

The demand recovery at Lufthansa that started in July and August last year, continued through the first four months of 2017, with the carrier reporting Group cargo traffic up 6.0% y-o-y in April to 897 million RTKs. The growth was led by a 9.4% increase in traffic on the Asia-Pacific lane to 422 million RTKs, while traffic on the trans-Atlantic lane was up 4.3% to 381 million RTKs. Traffic to/from the Middle East and Africa rose 1.8% to 64 million RTKs, and intra-Europe traffic was down 7.6% to 30 million RTKs. For the first four months of this year, Lufthansa’s cargo traffic was up 7.7% to 3.40 billion RTKs.

Air France-KLM reported April cargo traffic up 1.4% y-o-y to 719 million RTKs – not quite as much as the 5.6% gain in March, but better than the declines the carrier has been reporting for the last several years. Of the two carriers in the group, Air France reported its April traffic up 4.5% to 318 million RTKs, while KLM reported a slight (0.8%) decline to 401 million RTKs. For the year to date through April, AF-KLM’s cargo traffic was up 0.7% to 2.76 billion RTKs.

International Airlines Group reported April cargo traffic up 3.1% y-o-y to 466 million RTKs. Subsidiary carrier British Airways reported April cargo traffic up 6.1% to 368 million RTKs, while Iberia’s cargo traffic rose dropped 10.6% to 84 million RTKs. The much smaller cargo traffic at Aer Lingus jumped 27.3% to 14 million RTKs. For the first four months of 2017, IAG’s cargo traffic was up 3.4% to 1.83 billion RTKs.

Turkish Airlines reported April cargo volume up an amazing 35.8% y-o-y to 96,000 tonnes. This follows strong growth in the first quarter, and pushes Turkish’s cargo volume for the first four months of 2017 to 323,000 tonnes, up 24.1% over the same four months in 2016.

Frankfurt Airport (FRA) reported its cargo handle up 1.5% y-o-y to 185,000 tonnes in April. For the first four months of 2017, FRA’s handle was up 4.8% to 721,000 tonnes.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport reported its April handle up 6.3% to 146,000 tonnes. For the first four months of the year, Schiphol’s handle was up 7.6% to 567,000 tonnes.

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported its April handle up 8.6% to 138,000 tonne. Year-to-date, LHR’s handle was up 7.6%, to 537,000 tonnes.


United Airlines reported April  cargo traffic up 19.5% y-o-y to 387 million RTKs, its thirteenth consecutive month of strong gains. Year-to-date, United’s cargo traffic was up 20.1% to 1.48 billion RTKs.

American Airlines Group reported April cargo traffic up 11.9% y-o-y to 331 million RTKs. For the first four months of this year, American’s cargo traffic was up 13.4% to 1.24 million RTKs.

After a long period of declining cargo traffic, a turnaround plan at Delta Air Lines may finally be paying off. The Atlanta-based reported April cargo traffic up 9.5% y-o-y to 256 million RTKs. This follows a 5.7% gain in March and moves the carrier into positive territory for the year, with 2017 cargo traffic through April up 1.3% to 942 million RTKs.


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