Air freight volumes in March were up 5.9 per cent from a year earlier and capacity grew 3.4 per cent, according to the International Air Transport Association.
While this marks a significant improvement from March 2013, much of the growth took place in the final quarter of last year, over and above the usual year-end growth.
Since the beginning of this 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 United States and Europe, however, provide a reason to be cautiously optimistic for a resumption of growth in the months ahead, IATA said. Rising export orders, in particular, are expected to give momentum to US and European markets.
However, this is balanced against the impact of a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing, which is now into its fourth month. This has already had an impact on 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, IATA believes.
However, the air-cargo industry also needs to improve its value proposition if it is to attract growth when markets improve. Modernising 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,” Tony Tyler, IATA director-general and chief executive officer, said yesterday.
In the 40 years since the introduction of the Boeing 747 freighter, the end-to-end shipping time for goods by air has remained unchanged at six to seven days.
back of airlines taking advantage of growth in both developed and emerging markets.
Latin American air-freight volumes were flat. Trade deteriorated early this year, which could explain the slowdown. Capacity rose by 2.3 per cent, weakening the load factor.
African airlines expanded 5.9 per cent. Growth remains volatile, but the average for the first quarter was an expansion of 1.5 per cent. Growth has been affected by a slowdown in the South African economy. Capacity grew broadly in line with demand, at 5.5 per cent.