Global airfreight traffic grew in March at its fastest monthly pace since October 2010, capping off a strong quarter for the mode, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said today.
Freight demand, which is measured in freight ton-kilometers—defined as one revenue metric ton flown one kilometer—rose 14 percent in March from the same period a year ago, according to data from the global airline trade group. Capacity, meanwhile, rose just 4.2 percent, one of the widest differentials of demand over available space seen in some time. For much of the past 3 to 4 years, capacity has exceeded demand on many trade lanes, keeping a tight lid on yield growth.
In the first quarter, demand rose 11 percent year over year, while capacity increased by 3.7 percent, IATA said.
The Asia-Pacific region, the world's largest airfreight market with about 37.5 percent of world share, posted a 13.6-percent increase in freight ton-kilometers during March. Europe, the second-largest market, rose 18.2 percent. North America, the third largest, rose 9.5 percent. Africa, the smallest market by share, rose 33.5 percent. All six regions tracked by IATA except for Latin America posted year-over-year gains in March.
IATA said the March gains were consistent with the recent uptick in world trade activity. As an extension of the overall growth trend, airfreight is benefitting from a six-year high in world export orders, IATA said. Of particular note was an increase in the volumes of silicon materials typically used in high-value consumer electronics shipped by air, according to the group.
In a statement, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director-general and CEO, said "optimism is returning to the industry as the business stabilizes" after many years of stop-and-go, generally sub-par growth. Still, de Juniac said the industry has "much lost ground to recover" after more than a decade and a half of stagnation punctuated by bursts of growth that would eventually fizzle.
The industry expanded rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, due largely to the growth of globalization and the build-out of the Internet, which required large investments in high-value IT and electronic equipment that would typically move by air. However, the sector has endured a rough time over the past 17 years as a roller-coaster global economy tempered demand for premium-priced air commerce and compelled shippers to convert some of their shipments to lower-priced sea freight services.