Demand growth falls in March

March data from some of the world’s big cargo carriers, airports, and handlers paint a mixed picture. On the whole, it seems safe to say that the rate of growth in air freight demand is dropping back to earth from the double-digit percentages we saw over the last sixteen months, but this comes with two big caveats: First, March 2017 saw the strongest demand growth of the entire year (up 14% y-o-y according to IATA), so the comparison is extremely tough. And second, the results vary dramatically by geographic region. For most of the carriers and airports in Asia and Europe, March cargo traffic and volume was close to flat with March 2017. But in the Americas, growth was close to, or even above, 10%.

Now for the details…

Asia Pacific

Hong Kong International Airport reported its March cargo handle down 2.5% y-o-y to 422,000 tonnes. Discussing the results, the airport said, “While imports recorded a 13% growth in March, the decline in cargo throughput was mainly attributed to the 12% year-on-year drop in exports. Among the key trading regions, South Korea and Europe registered the most significant drop during the month.” For the first three months of 2018, HKIA’s handle was up 4.2% to 1.15 million tonnes.

Beijing-based Air China reported March cargo traffic up 7.7% y-o-y, to 653 million RTKs, not as big a jump as some of the gains it reported last year, but one of the strongest performances by a major international cargo carrier this month (other than Turkish Airlines, which operates in a separate universe). International traffic for the month was up 10.6% to 503 million RTKs, while domestic traffic declined 1.5% to 140 million RTKs. For the first quarter of 2018, Air China reported  10.8% increase in cargo traffic to 1.80 billion RTKs.

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines reported March cargo traffic flat with March 2017 at 619 million RTKs. International traffic for the month was up 0.9% to 479 million RTKs, while domestic traffic declined 2.9% to 138 million RTKs. For the first quarter of the year, China Southern’s cargo traffic was up 7.1% to 1.67 billion RTKs.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminal Co Ltd (Pactl, the biggest handler at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport) reported its March handle up 2.9% y-o-y to 163,000 tonnes. For the first three months of 2018, Pactl’s handle was up 6.0% to 436,000 tonnes. International volume was up 3.8% in March to 155,000 tonnes, and up 6.6% to 414,000 tonnes for the first quarter. The much smaller domestic volume was down 11.7% in March and 4.5% for the quarter, to 8,000 tonnes and 22,000 tonnes, respectively. (Most of Shanghai’s domestic cargo moves through Hongqiao Airport (SHA)).

Singapore Airlines reported March cargo traffic down slightly (0.8%) y-o-y to 621 million RTKs. For the first quarter of 2018, SIA Cargo’s traffic was up 4.6% to 1.73 billion RTKs.

Taiwan-based China Airlines reported March cargo traffic almost flat (up 0.1%) y-o-y at 494 million RTKs. For the first quarter of this year, CAL’s traffic was up 2.1% to 1.31 billion RTKs. The carrier’s cargo revenue growth continues to outpace traffic, up 14.3% for the three-month period.

Taiwan-based EVA Air reported March cargo traffic up 1.9% y-o-y to 319 million RTKs. For the first three months of 2018, EVA’s cargo traffic was up 1.9% to 867 million RTKs. Cargo revenue for the three-month period was up 13.5%.

South Korea’s Incheon Airport reported its March cargo handle flat with March 2017 at 260,000 tonnes. For the first three months of 2018, ICN’s handle was up 1.5% to 696,000 tonnes.

Europe & Middle East

Lufthansa reported group cargo traffic up slightly (0.4% y-o-y) in March to 985 million RTKs. Traffic on the trans-Atlantic lane was up 3.8% to 440 million RTKs, but this gain was offset by a 0.9% drop in traffic to/from the Asia-Pacific region to 446 million RTKs, and an 8.0% drop in traffic to/from the Middle East/Africa regions to 66 million RTKs. For the first quarter of 2018, Lufthansa’s group cargo traffic was up 4.9% to 2.62 billion RTKs.

Air France-KLM reported March cargo traffic down 1.7% y-o-y to 737 million RTKs. Air France cargo traffic declined 2.4% to 321 million RTKs, while KLM reported a 1.2% drop to 416 million RTKs. For the first three months of 2018, AF-KLM’s cargo traffic was down 0.4% to 2.04 billion RTKs.

International Airlines Group reported March cargo traffic down 0.5% y-o-y to 498 million RTKs. Subsidiary carrier Iberia reported a strong month, with cargo traffic up 8.5% to 102 million RTKs, and Ireland-based Aer Lingus saw March cargo traffic up 6.7% to 16 million RTKs. However, the total was dragged down by a 2.8% decline, to 381 million RTKs, at the much larger British Airways. For the first quarter, IAG reported cargo traffic down 0.7% to 1.36 billion RTKs.

Turkish Airlines reported March cargo volume up 29.3% y-o-y to 118,000 tonnes. This is, by a considerable margin, the strongest growth reported by any major carrier, airport, or handler in March, it is well down from the 43.2% growth Turkish reported for the combined January/February period, and leaves the carrier’s first-quarter volume up 37.6% over 1Q17 to 312,000 tonnes.

Frankfurt Airport (FRA) reported its cargo handle down 1.7% y-o-y to 202,000 tonnes in March. For the first quarter of 2018, FRA’s handle was up 0.7% to 540,000 tonnes.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport reported its March cargo handle down 4.8% y-o-y to 146,000 tonnes. Combined with the 0.6% decline for the January/February period, this puts Schiphol’s first-quarter 2018 handle down 2.1% to 412,000 tonnes, with the decline almost certainly due to the loss of full-freighter flights related to the recently-imposed slot restrictions at the airport. The number of full-freighter flights was down 10.8% in March compared to March 2017, and down 7.4% for the quarter – a loss of 171 freighter flights in March and 326 for the quarter as airlines moved their freighter operations to other European airports.

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported its March handle up 1.5% y-o-y to 151,000 tonnes. For the first three months of 2018, LHR’s handle was up 4.3% to 417,000 tonnes.

 Americas

Chile-headquartered LATAM Airlines Group reported March cargo traffic up 13.6% y-o-y to 306 million RTKs. For the first three months of the year, LATAM’s cargo traffic was up 8.8% to 882 million RTKs.

United Airlines reported March cargo traffic up 8.9% y-o-y to 445 million RTKs, continuing a two-year period of strong gains. For the first quarter, United’s cargo traffic was up 9.2% to 1.19 million RTKs.

Delta Air Lines reported March cargo traffic up 9.5% y-o-y to 276 million RTKs – its twelfth consecutive monthly y-o-y gain after years of declining demand. For the first three months of 2018, Delta’s cargo traffic was up 7.0% to 735 million RTKs.

Those interested in learning more about how leading cargo airlines and airports are evolving to match the needs of today’s airfreight market are invited to join us next week in Shanghai, April 23-25, for Cargo Facts Asia 2018, where top executives from carriers and airports worldwide will take part in several sessions devoted to current and future demand.  To register, or for more information, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.

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