Air Cargo Demand Continues Upward Trajectory in February & Strong Passenger Demand, Record Load Factor in February

- Geneva, Switzerland.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released demand growth results for global air freight markets for February 2017 showing an 8.4% increase in demand measured in freight tonne kilometers (FTKs) compared to the same period last year. After adjusting for the impact of the leap year in 2016, demand increased by 12% -- almost four times better than the five-year average rate of 3.0%.

Freight capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometers (AFTKs), shrank by 0.4% in February 2017.

The continued growth of air freight demand in 2017 is consistent with an uptick in world trade which corresponds with new global export orders remaining at elevated levels in March. Of particular note is the expanded volume of semi-conductor materials typically used in high-value consumer electronics.

"February further added to the cautious optimism building in air cargo markets. Demand grew by 12% in February—about four times the five-year average rate. With demand growing faster than capacity, yields got a boost. While there are signs of stronger world trade, concerns over the current protectionist rhetoric are still very real," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The rapid growth of niche markets such as cross-border e-commerce and time and temperature sensitive pharmaceutical are showing robust growth as noted at the World Air Cargo Symposium held in Abu Dhabi last month. "Any optimistic look at the future sees growing demand for specialized value added services. Shippers are telling us that the key to turning the current uptick in the cargo industry’s fortunes into longer-term growth is modernizing our antiquated processes. We must use the current momentum to push ahead with the elements of the e-cargo vision—including the e-air waybill which is nearing 50% market penetration," said de Juniac.     

February 2017
(% year-on-year)

World share¹

FTK

AFTK

FLF     
(%-pt)²     

FLF
(level)³  

Total Market        

100.0%     

8.4%

-0.4%    

3.5%      

43.5% 

Africa

1.6%

10.6%

1.0%

2.2%

25.1%

Asia Pacific

37.5%

11.8%

2.0%

4.3%         

49.3%

Europe             

23.5%             

10.5%

1.4%       

3.9%         

47.7%             

Latin America             

2.8%

-4.9%

-7.2%

0.8%

32.4%

Middle East             

13.9%

3.4%

-1.7%

2.2%

44.5%

North America            

20.7%

5.8%

-3.1%

3.0%

35.8%

¹% of industry FTKs in 2016   ²Year-on-year change in load factor   ³Load factor level              

Regional Performance    

All regions, with the exception of Latin America, reported an increase in demand in February 2017.  

  • Asia-Pacific airlines posted the largest year-on-year demand increase among regions in February 2017 with freight volumes growing 11.8% (more than 15% adjusting for the leap year).  Capacity increased by 2.0% over the same time. The increase in demand is captured in the positive outlook from business surveys in the region and is reflected in the increase in trade across Asia-Pacific’s main freight lanes to, from, and within the region, which have strengthened considerably over the past six months. Seasonally-adjusted volumes dipped slightly in February but remained up considerably since early 2016 and are now back to the levels reached in 2010 during the post-global financial crisis bounce-back.
  • North American airlines’ freight volumes expanded 5.8% (or more than 9% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 compared to the same period a year earlier, and capacity decreased by 3.1%. This was driven in part by the strength of freight traffic to and from Asia which increased by 5.7% year-on-year in January. The further strengthening of the US dollar continues to boost the inbound freight market but is keeping the export market under pressure.
  • European airlines posted a 10.5% (or around 14% adjusting for the leap year) increase in freight volumes in February 2017 and a capacity increase of 1.4%. The ongoing weakness of the Euro continues to boost the performance of the European freight market which has benefitted from strong export orders, particularly in Germany, over the last few months.
  • Middle Eastern carriers’ year-on-year freight volumes increased 3.4% (or approximately 7% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 and capacity decreased 1.7%. Seasonally adjusted freight volumes continue to trend upwards and demand remains strong between the Middle East and Europe. Despite this, growth has eased from the double-digit rates which were the norm over the past ten years. This corresponds with a slowdown in network expansion by the region’s major carriers.
  • Latin American airlines experienced a contraction in demand of 4.9% (or around 1% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 compared to the same period in 2016 and a decrease in capacity of 7.2%. Recovery in seasonally-adjusted volumes also stalled with demand 14% lower than at the peak in 2014. And freight volumes have now been in contractionary territory in 25 out of the last 27 months. The region’s carriers have managed to adjust capacity, which has limited the negative impact on the load factor. Latin America continues to be blighted by weak economic and political conditions. 
  • African carriers’ saw freight demand increase by 10.6% (or more than 14% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 compared to the same month last year and capacity increase by 1.0%. Year-to-date demand has increased by 16.2%, helped by very strong growth on the trade lanes to and from Asia. The increase in demand has helped the region’s seasonally-adjusted load factor rise by 2.8 percentage points so far in 2017.


View February air freight results (pdf)

Passenger Statistics

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced global passenger traffic results for February showing a second month of strong demand growth to begin 2017.

Total revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) rose 4.8%, compared to the same month last year. Although this was below growth achieved in January, year-to-year comparisons are distorted because February 2016 was a leap month. Adjusting for the one fewer day this year, the underlying growth rate was estimated at 8.6%, just under January’s increase of 8.9%. Monthly capacity (available seat kilometers or ASKs) increased by 2.7%, and load factor rose 1.6 percentage points to 79.5%, which was the highest ever recorded for February.

“The strong demand momentum from January has continued, supported by lower fares and a healthier economic backdrop. Although we remain concerned over the impact of any travel restrictions or closing of borders, we have not seen the attempted US ban on travel from six countries translate into an identifiable traffic trend. Overall travel demand continues to grow at a robust rate,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

IATA estimates that allowing for inflation, the price of air travel has fallen by more than 10% in real terms over the past year, accounting for more than half the growth in RPKs in early 2017.      

February 2017
(% year-on-year)

World share¹

RPK

ASK

PLF
(%-pt)²         

PLF
(level)³  
        

Total Market

100.0%

4.8%

2.7%

1.6%      

79.5%

Africa

2.2%

5.6%

1.4%

2.7%

67.6%

Asia Pacific

32.9%      

6.3%

3.4%

2.2%

81.4%

Europe

26.4%

6.3%

3.6%

2.0%

80.2%

Latin America

5.2%

2.4%

0.5%      

1.5%

80.8%

Middle East

9.6%

9.1%

6.9%

1.5%

74.1%

North America

23.7%      

-0.1%

-0.5%

0.3%

79.4%

   ¹% of industry RPKs in 2016   ²Year-on-year change in load factor   ³Load factor level   

International Passenger Markets

February international passenger demand rose 5.8% compared to February 2016, which was down compared to the 9.1% yearly increase recorded in January. Adjusting for the leap year, however, growth actually accelerated slightly compared to January. Total capacity climbed 3.4%, and load factor rose 1.8 percentage points to 78.4%.

  • European carriers saw February demand increase by 6.5% compared to a year ago. Traffic has resumed its growth after the terrorist disruptions in 2016, supported in part by momentum in the regional economy. Capacity climbed 3.4% and load factor surged 2.4 percentage points to 81.1%.
  • Asia-Pacific airlines’ February traffic rose 5.2% compared to the year-ago period, maintaining the strong momentum of the past few months. Intra-Asia traffic remains robust and conditions on the Asia-Europe route have continued to recover from last year’s terrorism-related slowdown. Capacity increased 2.9% and load factor climbed 1.7 percentage points to 79.8%.
  • Middle East carriers had the strongest growth, with a 9.5% demand increase in February compared to a year ago. Capacity rose 7% and load factor climbed for a fourth consecutive month to 74.3%, up 1.8 percentage points over last year.
  • North American airlines’ traffic climbed 0.3%, which was the slowest among the regions. However, adjusting for the leap year, growth was estimated at 3.4%. Traffic to/ from Asia continues to move upward but transatlantic demand has trended sideways since mid-2016. Capacity inched up 0.1% and load factor edged up 0.1 percentage point to 75.9%.
  • Latin American airlines saw February traffic rise 5.9% compared to February 2016. Capacity increased by 2.8%, boosting load factor 2.3 percentage points to 81.4%, highest among the regions. Robust international demand within South America is offsetting weaker traffic to North America, which has trended downward since mid-2015 and fell by 3.4% in January, the most recent month for which route-specific results are available.
  • African airlines continued their recovery, with February traffic up 7.1% compared to a year ago. This mainly reflects the upturn on the key route to/from Europe, offsetting struggles in the region’s biggest economies of Nigeria and South Africa. Capacity rose 2.3%, and load factor jumped 2.9 percentage points to 66.0%.

Domestic Passenger Markets 

Domestic travel demand rose 3.3% in February compared to February 2016, reduced from 8.7% in January, but again, the leap year effect greatly exaggerated the slowdown. Results varied widely as Australia, Brazil and the US all registered non-adjusted declines. Domestic capacity climbed 1.6%, and load factor increased 1.3 percentage points to 81.4%.

February 2017
(% year-on-year)

World share¹

RPK

ASK

PLF     
(%-pt)²     

PLF
(level)³  

Domestic

36.3%     

3.3%

1.6%    

1.3%      

81.4% 

Australia

1.0%

-3.3%

-3.9%

0.5%

73.8%

Brazil 

1.2%

-4.8%

-5.8%

0.9%

79.4%

China P.R             

8.7%

9.1%

5.3%       

3.0%

86.1%             

Indian             

1.3%

17.0%

14.0%

2.2%

86.9%

Japan             

1.1%

1.7%

-1.7%

2.4%

69.1%

Russia Fed.             

1.3%

13.3%

13.8%

-0.3%

73.9%

US

14.9%

-0.4%

-1.0%

0.5%

81.2%

¹% of industry RPKs in 2016   ²Year-on-year change in load factor   ³Load factor level  *Note: the seven domestic passenger markets for which broken-down data are available account for 30% of global total RPKs and approximately 82% of total domestic RPKs               

  • Russia has joined India and China among the fastest growing markets. Traffic is now back on its trend line prior to the collapse of Transaero in late 2015, supported by steady recovery in the economy and ruble over the past year as oil prices have firmed.
  • US airlines’ upward momentum in the domestic market has stalled over the past six months, notwithstanding strong readings from consumer confidence surveys.

The Bottom Line:

The year has opened with some shocks—the attempted ban on travel to the US by citizens of six countries and the restrictions on the carry-on of large electronic items from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa on direct flights to the US and the UK. The potential implications of the Brexit talks on the air transport industry are significant and the political rhetoric of protectionism and closing of borders is adding to the ambiguity.

"It’s intolerable that governments continue to add to the uncertainties facing the air transport industry by failing to engage airline operational know-how on issues that can damage public confidence. The introduction of restrictions on the carry-on of large electronic devices was a missed opportunity and the result was a measure that cannot stand-up to the scrutiny of public confidence in the long term. Although Australia’s measures were also implemented without consulting the industry, they at least demonstrate the potential to mitigate the threat with less disruptive means. We all want to keep flying secure. And we can do that most effectively by working together," said de Juniac.

In tandem, states need to support the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as it develops a Global Aviation Security Plan. Additionally, next month, ICAO member states will consider amendments to Annex 17 of the Chicago Convention that would require information sharing. "The security experience of recent years should compel states to support this," said de Juniac.

View February passenger traffic analysis  (pdf)

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