The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data showing air freight markets in March were up 5.9% compared to a year ago and capacity grew 3.4%. While this marks a significant improvement in volumes compared to March 2013, much of the growth took place in the final quarter of 2013 (over and above the usual year-end volume growth). Since the beginning of the year, air cargo volumes have been basically flat. This plateau in volumes is consistent with the recent pause in improvements to business confidence and world trade.

Business conditions in the US and Europe, however, provide a reason to be cautiously optimistic for a resumption of growth in the months ahead. Rising export orders, in particular, are expected to give positive momentum to US and European markets. But this is balanced against the impact of a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing which is now into its fourth month. This has already impacted exports from emerging Asian countries, which contracted in February.

“Cargo markets had a boost in the last quarter of 2013, but have now levelled off. It is a competitive industry with growing capacity chasing weak demand. The business cycle will eventually swing upwards. But the air cargo industry also needs to improve its value proposition if it is to attract growth when markets improve. Modernizing air cargo processes and infrastructure offers the potential to cut end-to-end shipping times by up to 48 hours. We cannot let market doldrums hold us back from this critical competitive gain,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

In the 40 years since the introduction of the 747 freighter, the end-to-end shipping time for goods by air has remained unchanged, at six to seven days. During this period, innovators have created a new value proposition for shippers and consumers based on an end-to-end model, speeding up deliveries through integrating the airline and ground components of freight, challenging the existing business model for many participants. At the World Cargo Symposium in March, IATA’s Global Head of Cargo Des Vertannes challenged the industry to cut the end-to-end air freight shipment time by 48 hours by the year 2020, to enhance the competitiveness and value of air cargo.

Mar 2014 vs. Mar 2013 FTK Growth AFTK Growth FLF
International 6.7% 4.0% 53.1
Domestic 0.8% 0.9% 30.7
Total Market 5.9% 3.4% 48.7
YTD 2014 vs. YTD 2013 FTK Growth AFTK Growth FLF
International 4.9% 4.0% 49.5
Domestic 1.1% 2.1% 29.9
Total Market 4.4% 3.6% 45.6

Regional Analysis in detail

Asia-Pacific carriers grew 6.9% compared to a year ago. Some of the March growth will reflect a resumption of business activity after the break for the Lunar New Year. Looking ahead, however, the continuing slowdown of Chinese GDP growth is likely to ultimately impact trade growth and air freight demand for local carriers. Capacity grew by 7.5%, running slightly ahead of demand.

European airlines expanded by 5.1% compared to March 2013. Measures of business activity in the Eurozone have been pointing to continuous expansion since mid-2013, which is expected to be maintained. Capacity expanded just 1.3%, strengthening load factors.
North American carriers grew 1.9% year-on-year. The slower growth could be a reflection of the weather-related disruption in the first quarter of the year. Business fundamentals in North America are strong, which should support greater air freight volumes in coming months. Capacity declined by 0.3%.

Middle Eastern carriers saw a 13.2% year-on-year rise in FTK volumes. This strong performance comes on the back of airlines taking advantage of growth in both developed and emerging markets. Carriers in the region are expanding their networks and services, broadening the range of goods they transport. Capacity grew just 4.7%, taking the load factor to nearly 50%.

Latin American air freight volumes were flat. Trade in the region deteriorated in early 2014, which could explain the slowdown. Capacity rose by 2.3%, weakening the load factor.

African airlines expanded 5.9% compared to March 2013. Growth in the region remains volatile, but the average for the first quarter was an expansion of 1.5%. Growth has been affected by a slowdown in the South African economy. Capacity grew broadly in line with demand, at 5.5%.

View full March air freight results (pdf)

For more information, please contact:
Corporate Communications
Tel: +41 22 770 2967

Notes for Editors:

  • IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents some 240 airlines comprising 84% of global air traffic.
  • All figures are provisional and represent total reporting at time of publication plus estimates for missing data. Historic figures may be revised.
  • Explanation of measurement terms:
    • FTK: Freight Tonne Kilometers measures actual freight traffic
    • AFTK: Available Freight Tonne Kilometers measures available total freight capacity
    • FLF: Freight Load Factor is % of AFTKs used
  • IATA statistics cover international and domestic scheduled air freight for IATA member and non-member airlines.
  • Total freight traffic market shares by region of carriers in terms of FTK are: Asia-Pacific 39.7%, Europe 23.3%, North America 20.1%, Middle East 12.4%, Latin America 2.9%, Africa 1.5%.