April air freight demand — getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go.

  • David Harris
  • May 17, 2013
  • Archive

Most of the world’s big cargo carriers, handlers and airports have published their April cargo traffic and volume data (details below), and while the news is hardly good, it is certainly much less bad than it has been. It would be overstating things to say that a real recovery has begun, but if we take into account the big gains being made by carriers from the Gulf Region (which do not report their results in a timely fashion) then it is likely that the overall pattern for the month will be positive – if only slightly.


Is this the beginning of a real turnaround? We don’t know, and probably no one else does, either. Economically, the Asia-Pacific region and the Americas (to say nothing of the Middle East and Africa)  are doing well enough that air freight demand should begin to grow, but uncertainty about Europe clouds the picture for everyone. Our best guess is that if the Europeans appear to be moving toward a solution to their economic and political problems, worldwide demand for air freight will take off. But until then, small gains may be the best we can hope for.


Asia Pacific

Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals (Hactl) reported its April handle up 3.8% y-o-y to 236,000 tonnes. Export volume was up 4.2% to 127,000 tonnes, import volume was up 1.3% to 53,000 tonnes, and transshipment volume (which now exceeds imports), was up 5.2% to 56,000 tonnes. These gains come despite the fact that Cathay Pacific, Hactl’s biggest customer, has begun handling some of its own cargo (and that of subsidiary carrier Dragonair) in the new facility it opened in late February. At this early stage, Cathay has not moved much of its cargo away from Hactl, but as we move further into 2013, the impact on Hactl’s tonnage will become significant. For the first four months of 2013 Hactl’s handle was up 2.1% to 880,000 tonnes.


Cathay Pacific Airways reported April cargo traffic down 2.4% y-o-y to 682 million RTKs. While this is hardly a positive result, April was nonetheless the best month for cargo this year for Cathay (due to the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday, we count January/February as a single month.) For the year to date through April, Cathay’s cargo traffic was down 5.4% to 2.74 billion RTKs.In discussing the April result, Cathay Pacific General Manager Cargo Sales & Marketing James Woodrow said: “The air cargo market took a major dip in April 2011 and has remained in the doldrums for two consecutive years – an unprecedented period of time for the markets to remain weak. While our tonnage last month was almost on a par with the same month in 2012, it was almost 30,000 tonnes behind what we achieved in April 2010. With no sign of any sustained pick-up, we are continuing to manage freighter capacity in line with demand and increase the overall efficiency of our freighter fleet.”


Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines reported April cargo traffic down 1.1% y-o-y to 387 million RTKs as both international and domestic traffic fell by a small percentage. International traffic was down 1.4% to 302 million RTKs, while domestic traffic was down just 0.4% to 75 million RTKs. The much smaller regional traffic (Hong Kong and Macaul) was up 3.0% to 10 million RTKs, but this was not enough to affect the overall decline. For the first four months of 2013, China Eastern’s cargo traffic was almost flat with 2012, down just 0.3% to 1.47 billion RTKs.


Shanghai Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminals Co. Ltd (Pactl, the biggest cargo handler at PVG) reported its April handle up 7.1% y-o-y to 108,000 tonnes. International volume was up 6.0% to 100,000 tonnes, while the much smaller domestic volume was jumped 23.9% to 8,000 tonnes (most of Shanghai’s domestic cargo moves through nearby Hongqiao Airport). For the first four months of 2013, Pactl’s handle was up 2.5% to 379,000 tonnes.


Beijing-based Air China reported April cargo traffic up 6.0% y-o-y to 421 million RTKs. International traffic was up 3.7% to 291 million RTKs, while domestic traffic jumped 13.0% to 122 million RTKs. This continues Air China’s positive trend in 2013, with the carrier reporting cargo traffic for the first four months of the year up 4.3% to 1.49 billion RTKs.


Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines reported April cargo traffic up 3.1% y-o-y to 356 million RTKs. International traffic was up 4.2% to 238 million RTKs, while domestic traffic rose 1.4% to 117 million RTKs. For the year through April China Southern’s cargo traffic was up 5.4% to 1.33 billion RTKs.


Singapore Airlines reported April traffic down 4.5% y-o-y to 532 million RTKs. For the first four months of 2013 SIA’s cargo traffic was down 4.4% to 2.22 billion RTKs.


Europe & Middle East

Lufthansa Cargo reported its April traffic down 0.6% y-o-y to 709 million RTKs. While this is still down on a year-over-year basis, it carries on a trend of gradually improving results for the German carrier. For the Lufthansa Group as a whole, April cargo traffic was down 0.4% to 834 million RTKs reflecting the impact of slight growth (0.1%) at subsidiary SWISS. On a regional basis, April cargo traffic was up 1.5% on the trans-Atlantic lane, and up 1.1% to/from the Middle East and Africa but down 2.9% on the Asia-Europe lane. For the first four months of 2013, Lufthansa Cargo’s traffic was down 4.5% to 2.73 billion RTKs, while Group cargo traffic was down 3.5% to 3.23 billion RTKs.


Air France-KLM continued to report declining cargo traffic, with April traffic down 4.5% y-o-y to 837 million RTKs. Traffic was down on all major trade lanes, although the drop on the trans-Atlantic lane was just 0.4% to 337 million RTKs. However the carrier continued to struggle on the Europe-Asia lane, where traffic was 9.4% to 325 million RTKs. And not only was traffic down, AF-KLM said cargo yield also fell, although it did not provide details. For the first four months of 2013 AF-KLM’s cargo traffic was down 6.3% to 3.25 billion RTKs.


International Airlines Group (IAG, parent of British Airways and Iberia) reported April cargo traffic down 7.0% y-o-y to 468 million RTKs. Interestingly, while poor results at Iberia have dragged down over all performance every month since the BA/Iberia merger, in April BA reported a bigger drop (7.1% to 378 million RTKs) than Iberia (down 6.3% to 90 million RTKs. For the four months of 2013, IAG’s cargo traffic was down 7.7% to 1.83 billion RTKs.


Turkish Airlines continues to report very strong results, with April cargo volume up 18.0% y-o-y to 47,000 tonnes. For the year through April, Turkish reported cargo volume up 14.7% to 148,000 tonnes.


Frankfurt Airport (FRA) reported its April freight handle flat with April 2012 at 168,000 tonnes. This is a less welcome result than the small y-o-y increases at FRA that began in November last year, but at least not a return to the declines reported in the 18 months of declines before that. For the first four months of this year, FRA’s handle was up 0.9% to 650,000 tonnes. While this is a slight improvement over 2012, , it is nonetheless almost 5% below the previous high point in 2010.


London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported its April handle down 3.0% y-o-y to 115,000 tonnes. For the first four months of 2013, LHR’s handle was down 3.6% to 460,000 tonnes.



LATAM Airlines Group (parent of LAN and TAM), reported April cargo traffic up 10% y-o-y to 407 million RTKs. The company said the increase in traffic came was “mainly driven by delayed seasonal demand.” For the first four months of 2013, LATAM’s cargo traffic was up 2.5% to 1.51 billion RTKs.


United Airlines reported April cargo traffic down 9.0% y-o-y to 274 million RTKs. For the year through April, United’s cargo traffic was down 12.4% to 1.22 billion RTKs.


Delta Air Lines reported April cargo traffic down 3.1% y-o-y to 274 million RTKs. For the first for months of the year, Delta’s cargo traffic was down 1.7% to 1.09 billion RTKs.


American Airlines reported April cargo traffic down 3.2% y-o-y to 215 million RTKs. For the first four months of 2013, American’s cargo traffic was down 6.6% to 813 million RTKs.


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