Confidence is returning
«2013 was a tough year for freight. Even if we saw a slight increase in demand from the beginning of the second half of the year, 2014 is still likely to be a challenging period». This is how Tony Tyler, the director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association Iata, commented on current developments in the industry at the beginning of February.
According to figures published recently by Iata, International Air Transport Association, the total volume of airfreight transported last year in terms of ftk registered an overall increase of 1.4% vis-à-vis 2012. Whereas the market progressed very erratically during the first six months of the year, business picked up in the second half, which was then marked by steady growth.
There is no cause for euphoria, however. Although the increase of 1.8% for December was above the average recorded for the year, it nevertheless represented a substantial drop compared with growth in the previous month (+6% compared to November 2012).
Europeans are catching up
The major proportion of the growth in the overall airfreight volumes was accounted for by Middle Eastern and Latin American airlines, but also by European carriers.
With growth of 12.8% in relation to 2012, a figure unrivalled by that of any other region, SkyCargo, Etihad, Qatar, Saudia and the other Middle Eastern carriers lifted their region to the undisputed first place in the world. The reasons were a solid growth of the regional trade volume and strong demand from the advanced economies, amongst other things.
After the strengthening of economic activity in Europe, particularly in the Euro zone, an expansion of the business of European airlines set in during the second quarter of the year, the first after a period of 18 months without growth. On balance, their freight volume showed a 1.8% improvement.
The Latin American carriers registered higher growth, 2.4%, but Iata stated that their performance, like that of African airlines (growth of 1%), was poorer than in the preceding year.
«These results,» the association said, «reflect sluggishness during parts of the year in some regional economies as well as in trade volumes.» This assessment, however, is not fully supported by the figures. According to the same source, the African airlines do in fact seem to have experienced very strong growth in 2012 (7.1% compared with 2011), but Latin American carriers (–2.9% in 2011) now appear to have reversed the trend.
Two lame horses
The same cannot be said of North American airlines. The fall in their freight volume in 2013 (–0.4%) compared with 2012 was comparable with that of the previous year (–0.5%).
The adverse effects of the government shutdown in October 2013 were offset by a nascent upturn in the manufacturing sector, but Iata put this into perspective with a comment that growth rates were substantially lower than they were at the beginning of last year.
The prospects are still more bleak on the other side of the Pacific. The volume in the Asia-Pacific region, which is the area that accounts for the largest proportion of global freight volumes handled, showed a further contraction in the twelve months of 2013. In the view of the world body, the decline of 1% is due to stagnating demand for Asian-made goods and patchy economic growth in almost the entire region.
Limits to growth
«The near-to-medium term outlook for airfreight is improving slowly, which is consistent with the cyclical pick-up in global economic growth,» Iata stated. But the recent acceleration in world trade has only been in line with economic growth, not running at twice the latter’s pace, as it had in the past.
This, the organisation concludes in its analysis, suggests that further growth in airfreight could be limited, unless the historical relationship between world trade and economic activity is restored.