In 1997, airfreight carriers hauled 2.61 billion shipments.Shipment volumes grew in each of the next three years, peaking in 2000 at close to 3 billion.A combination of a poor economy and the terrorist attacks caused air shipments to drop off in 2001 and again in 2002. Colography says the weakness caused the U.S.airfreight market to lose about five years' worth of growth.
The prospects for less-than-tru ck load shipping are not much brighter, according to the report. Less-than-truckload shipments are expected to show minor growth to 146.8 million shipments from 2002's 146.6 million.
The U.S. air export segment will continue a four-year downward trend in 2003, with shipments projected to drop to 76.9 million from last year's 77.8 million. That's far below the peak volume of nearly 89 million shipments recorded in 2000.
The Colography report says that ground parcel will be the only segment to demonstrate year-over-year growth from 2001 to 2003. Ground parcel shipments will increase to 3.67 billion this year, compared to 3.59 billion in 2002 and 3.54 billion in 2001.
What does the future hold? Ted Scherck, president of the Colography Group, was unable to offer much encouragement to struggling carriers. "A fragile U.S. economic recovery, sluggish overseas end markets and the shift to short-haul surface transportation will create significant challenges for airfreight growth here and abroad," he said in a prepared statement "and they will put continued pressure on longhaul LTL activity in the United States."
Nor did he have anything encouraging to say about the airfreight industry's long-term prospects: "In the United States, air freight's best days are behind it," Scherck said. He attributed the growth of the business in the 1990s to shipments growing out of Y2K concerns, the boom in dot-com businesses and rapid expansion of the nation's telecommunications infrastructure. "This spurred an avalanche of demand for high-value technology and telecom products normally shipped by air," Scherck said."Unfortunately for the domestic airfreight business, such a highly potent cocktail of demand is unlikely to be mixed again anytime soon."
The gloomy outlook for air freight aside, the report, titled Expedited Cargo Market Projections for 2003, includes the following forecasts: