Recovery reinforced in 2014

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ACI’s preliminary airport data points to around 3.7% global air freight growth in the first half of 2014, including 4.5% growth of international and 1.8% domestic growth, continuing and building upon the growth trend of the second half of last year. In fact, ACI figures suggest that for the 12 months to 30 June, the world’s airports achieved average year-on-year growth of 2.8% overall, with 3.2% for international and 1.7% for domestic traffic. This contrasts with full calendar year 2013 figures, where ACI data suggests tonnage growth of just 0.7% for the world’s main airports last year, or 0.9% for international traffic.

IATA’s freight tonne kilometre (FTK) figures estimate global air freight in the first half of 2014 at 4.1%, while WorldACD reports a similar picture in terms of tonnage figures this year. Among the more than 50 airlines and their transactions with over 15,000 forwarders in the WorldACD database, tonnage figures for the first six months of 2014 increased by 4.8%, year over year, globally, completing 12 consecutive months of year-on-year global growth. And for the first time in 30 months, revenue growth in June in US dollar terms outpaced volume increases, generating the first monthly global average yield increase for two and a half years.

Asian airport revival

On a regional basis, IATA says Asia-Pacific airlines’ freight volumes grew 4.6% in the first half of 2014, and with Chinese manufacturing expanding again, it expects this growth to continue. ACI data also indicates first-half growth of around 5% among Asia-Pacific airports.

The world’s busiest international cargo airport, Hong Kong International, achieved cargo volume growth of 6.3% in the first half of 2014 to 2.1 million tonnes as demand for air freight capacity to and from Greater China continued its revival. This followed 2.4% growth in 2013, thanks to the recovery in the second half of last year. And Japan’s air freight recovery also appears to be gaining strength as the country’s economy shows signs of finally returning to growth, with Tokyo Narita Airport achieving a traffic increase of around 9% in the first half of 2014 to almost 997,000 tonnes.

But the recovery has been less apparent in south-east Asia. Singapore’s Changi airport recorded a slight (0.6%) first-half increase in traffic to 910,000 tonnes this year, continuing its overall relatively flat performance across last year as a whole, when volumes increased by 0.8% to 1.89 million tonnes. Volumes through Bangkok were also flat in the first quarter of this year, although they have at least stabilised compared with last year’s 8% decline.

Zhengzhou’s rise

Looking at ACI’s Top 100 international cargo airport figures for 2013, the most striking figure is the 69% year-on-year increase in volumes at China’s Zhengzhou airport, taking it to 255,000 tonnes last year and 79th in the global world rankings. Production nearby for Apple by Foxconn has attracted large numbers of freighter operations by Asian and European carriers. Other significant movers in China in the top 100 include a return to double-digit growth for Kunming (+12% to 293,000 tonnnes; 69th); Tianjin (+11.5% to 223,000 tonnes; 92nd); Xiamen (+10.3% to 299,000; 65th); and a decline of more than 21% at Nanjing to 199,000 tonnes (100th), while Hangzhou saw a rise of almost 9% to 368,000 tonnes (59th). Elsewhere in Asia, Vietnam saw double-digit growth at Ho Chi Minh City (+10% to 375,000; 57th) and Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport (+23% to 348,000, 62nd).

European improvement

Cargo carried by European airlines grew by 3.2% in the first six months, but ACI data suggests average growth of around 4.5% at Europe’s airports. Although Frankfurt’s first-half cargo throughput (airfreight and airmail) grew by just 2.2% to 1.1 million metric tonnes, cargo through Amsterdam Airport Schiphol increased 8.8% for the first six months to more than 801,000 tonnes. Cargo volume at London Heathrow increased 4.1% to 726,000 tonnes in the first six months of 2014, with notable increases on routes serving China, Japan, Brazil and the US. But Italy’s Malpensa topped the table for European growth in the first half of 2014 with an increase of 12%. This followed growth of 3.8% in 2013 to 430,000 tonnes, thanks to a continuous recovery since the second half of last year. Luxembourg airport also saw strong growth in the first half of 2014, thanks largely to expansion by Cargolux, with the airport achieving a year-on-year increase of almost 9% to around 345,000 tonnes.

But Europe’s main integrator airports, Leipzig (+0.9% in H1), Cologne, Liege (+1.5% in H1), and Paris CDG, have achieved relatively low single-digit growth this year as the integrators have limited capacity expansion in response to a switch in demand towards “deferred express” services – some of which can be carried using third-party commercial airline capacity – while demand for priority express services has remained relatively flat.

IATA figures show North American airlines reporting first-half 2014 FTK growth of 1.6% and ACI figures suggest growth of 2.3% for the region’s airports, consisting of 5.1% internationally and just 0.5% domestically. However, the region’s main airports show considerable variation. First-half volumes through LAX were flat at 951,000 tonnes, whereas Chicago O’Hare reported an 8.5% first-half increase to 738,000 tonnes and Dallas Fort Worth reported a 5% increase to almost 335,000 tonnes. Miami, meanwhile, saw volumes increase 1.9% to 936,000 tonnes.

Miami’s relatively low growth reflects the performance of airports and airlines in Latin America, where the region’s carriers saw “disappointing” demand, with first-half cargo volumes declining by 0.1% – the only region to be in decline in the first half of this year. IATA said this was due to sluggish trade growth and in particular the weakness of the Brazilian economy. ACI recorded airports in its Latin America-Caribbean region averaging 0.4% growth in the first six months of this year.

Meanwhile, Middle East carriers have continued to expand strongly, with first-half air cargo volumes up 10% as airlines in the region capitalise on growth opportunities by expanding services to fast-growing emerging markets such as Uganda and Mexico, IATA reports. Capacity expanded 8.6%, year on year. Abu Dhabi (+16%, 378,000 tonnes), Doha, and Istanbul airports each achieved continued growth in the first half of this year, thanks largely to the rapid expansion of their home carriers, although ACI figures list the Middle East as recording first-half 2014 average growth of just 2.5%. This followed double-digit growth last year at Abu Dhabi (+24% to 712,000 tonnes; 29th) and Istanbul (+15.9% to 650,000; 35th), while Dubai International and Doha recorded relatively subdued growth of 6.8% and 4.8%, respectively.

Dubai’s airports combined have also seen strong overall growth this year, although the switch of freighter operators from Dubai International to Dubai World Central has meant that volumes at DBX were flat in the first half year while DWC has seen its cargo volumes more than double this year, to 276,000 tonnes in the first six months.

African carriers achieved average growth of 3.1% in the first half, affected by a slowdown in some African economies, notably South Africa, although ACI’s FreightFlash snapshot of global airport freight volumes suggests that the region’s airports saw a 2.3% decline in the first six months of this year. Improving trade data, however, points to a more optimistic outlook for Africa for the rest of the year, IATA believes.

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