Air Freight Demand Growth Eases but Remains Robust; Passenger Demand Surges in April - Laptop Ban May Be Affecting Middle East-US Traffic

- Cancun, Mexico.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data for global air freight markets showing that demand, measured in freight tonne kilometers (FTKs), rose 8.5% in April 2017 compared to the year-earlier period. While this was down from the 13.4% year-on-year growth recorded in March 2017, it is well above the average annual growth rate of 3.5% over the past five years.

Growth in freight capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometers (AFTKs), slowed to 3.9% in April 2017.

Business confidence indicators remain consistently upbeat, suggesting year-on-year FTK growth will remain robust for the rest of the second quarter. However, there are signs that the cyclical growth peak for air cargo has passed, particularly given that the inventory-to-sales ratio stopped falling at the end of last year. Air cargo often sees a boost in demand at the beginning of an economic upturn as companies look to restock inventories quickly. This tapers as inventories are adjusted to new demand levels. Over the whole year, air freight is headed for a healthy growth rate of 7.5%, supported by strong pharmaceuticals and e-commerce.

"Demand eased in April. Growth rates, however, are still much more robust than anything we have seen in the last six years. That’s good news, but it should not be taken as a message that all is well in air cargo. The industry’s antiquated processes need modernization. With e-air waybill utilization topping 50% in April, progress is being made. And we must harness the momentum to drive transformational change across the way the industry operates," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

April 2017
(% year-on-year)

World share¹

FTK

AFTK

FLF     
(%-pt)²     

FLF
(level)³  

Total Market        

100.0%     

8.5%

3.9%    

1.9%      

45.0% 

Africa

1.6%

26.0%

17.7%

1.6%

23.6%

Asia Pacific

37.5%

8.4%

3.7%

2.4%         

54.7%

Europe             

23.5%             

12.9%

6.9%       

2.6%         

47.9%             

Latin America             

2.8%

-1.9%

-0.2%

-0.6%

33.3%

Middle East             

13.9%

3.1%

0.8%

1.0%

43.7%

North America            

20.7%

7.3%

2.1%

1.7%

36.1%

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 year-on-year increases in demand in April 2017. Airlines in Europe and Asia-Pacific accounted for more than 70% of the annual increase in global freight volumes. North American airlines accounted for much of the rest with Middle Eastern and African airlines also making a positive contribution.

  • Asia-Pacific airlines’ freight volumes expanded 8.4% in April 2017 compared to the same period a year earlier and capacity increased by 3.7%. The increase in volumes reflects the strength of the order books reported by exporters across the region. Seasonally-adjusted volumes recently surpassed the levels reached following the 2010 post-global financial crisis bounce-back.
  • North American carriers posted an increase in freight volumes of 7.3% in April 2017, and a capacity increase of 2.1%. Seasonally-adjusted volumes jumped in April, however, it is too soon to tell if this is the start of a lasting pick up. The strength of the US dollar continues to boost the inbound freight market but is keeping the export market under pressure.
  • European airlines posted a 12.9% increase in freight volumes in April 2017 and a capacity increase of 6.9%. This was a slight slowdown from March but still well above the five-year average of 3.5%. International freight volumes grew by 13.1% year-on-year. The ongoing weakness of the Euro persists in boosting the performance of the European freight market which has benefitted from strong export orders over the last few months.
  • Middle Eastern carriers’ year-on-year freight volumes increased 3.1% in April 2017. This was a sharp slowdown from the 16.3% increase in March. The drop appears to be related to volatile monthly developments last year rather than a pronounced downturn. Capacity increased 0.8%. International freight volumes increased 8.0% year-to-date in April – this is slower than the five-year average pace of growth of 11%. Seasonally-adjusted freight volumes maintained their upward trend. Demand remains strong between the Middle East and Europe but traffic to Asia has weakened. 
  • Latin American airlines experienced a contraction in demand of 1.9% in April 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Capacity decreased by 0.2% over the same period. Recovery in seasonally-adjusted volumes also stalled, with demand in April reaching close to a seven-year low. Demand is now 18% lower than at the peak in 2014. The region’s carriers have managed to adjust capacity, which has limited the negative impact on the load factor.
  • African carriers posted the largest year-on-year increase in demand of all regions in April 2017 with freight volumes growing 26%. Capacity increased by 17.7% over the same time. Demand has been boosted by very strong growth on the trade lanes to and from Asia which have increased by nearly 55% so far this year. The region’s load factor remains challenged--the lowest of all regions and well under half that of carriers based in Asia-Pacific. 

IATA AGM: In just a few days, commercial aviation’s center of gravity will shift to Cancun, Mexico, for IATA’s 73rd Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit (4-6 June, 2017). The event is open to accredited journalists.

View April air freight results (pdf)

PASSENGER

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced global passenger traffic data for April 2017 showing that demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose by 10.7% compared to April 2016, which was the fastest pace in six years. April capacity (available seat kilometers or ASKs) increased by 7.1%, and load factor climbed 2.7 percentage points to 82.0%- a record for the month of April.

The strong performance is supported by a pick-up in global economic activity and lower airfares. After adjusting for inflation, the price of air travel in the first quarter was around 10% lower than in the year-ago period. IATA estimated that falling airfares accounted for around half the demand growth in April. However, the cabin ban on the carriage of large portable electronic devices (PEDs) from 10 Middle Eastern and African airports to the US appears to have weighed down Middle East-North America passenger traffic.

"April showed us that demand for air travel remains at very strong levels. Nevertheless there are indications that passengers are avoiding routes where the large PED ban is in place. As the US Department of Homeland Security considers expanding the ban, the need to find alternative measures to keep flying secure is critical. If the ban were extended to Europe-to-US flights, for example, we estimate a $1.4 billion hit on productivity. And an IATA-commissioned survey of business travelers indicated that 15% would seek to reduce their travel in the face of a ban," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

April 2017
(% year-on-year)

World share¹

RPK

ASK

PLF
(%-pt)²         

PLF
(level)³  
        

Total Market

100.0%

10.7%

7.1%

2.7%      

82.0%

Africa

2.2%

15.4%

5.6%

6.2%

73.2%

Asia Pacific

32.9%      

10.7%

8.1%

1.9%

81.1%

Europe

26.5%

14.0%

8.0%

4.4%

84.6%

Latin America

5.2%

11.7%

6.4%      

3.9%

81.7%

Middle East

9.6%

10.8%

9.1%

1.2%

76.3%

North America

23.7%      

6.7%      

4.2%

2.0%

84.2%

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

International Passenger Markets

April international passenger demand rose 12.5% compared to April 2016, with all regions recording double-digit year-over-year traffic increases for the first time in 12 years. Total capacity climbed 7.7%, and load factor climbed 3.5 percentage points to 81.5%. 

  • Middle Eastern carriers posted a 10.8% traffic rise in April. Capacity rose 8.9% and load factor climbed 1.3 percentage points to 76.5%. However, in contrast to all the other regions, the April growth rate for Middle East airlines was slower than the five-year average growth pace. Moreover, in seasonally-adjusted terms, the region’s international traffic has tracked sideways since January.

    Impact of the large PED ban : The route-level data from March (the most recent month available) show that RPKs flown by Middle East airlines to the US fell in year-on-year terms by 2.8% for the month. This was the first annual decline recorded for this market in at least seven years. While traffic growth on the market segment already was slowing, the decline is consistent with some disruption from the PED ban that was announced 21 March, as well as a wider impact on inbound travel to the US from the Trump Administration’s proposed travel bans.
  • European carriers saw demand rise 14.4% in April, supported by growing momentum in the region’s economy. Comparisons with the year-ago period are distorted partly by the disruption following the series of terrorist attacks last year. That said, the April 2017 results represented the fastest year-over-year growth pace since April 2011, when comparisons were heavily impacted by the Icelandic ash cloud event in 2010 that led to the grounding of thousands of flights in Europe. Excluding this one-off event, April’s growth rate was the fastest in nearly 13 years. Capacity climbed 7.9% and load factor soared 4.9 percentage points to 85.4%, which was the highest among the regions.
  •  Asia-Pacific airlines’ April traffic increased 10.9% compared to the year-ago period, a 14-month high. Traffic on Asia-Europe routes continues to recover from the terrorism-related slowdowns last year. Capacity rose 7.6% and load factor jumped 2.4 percentage points to 80.3%.
  • North American airlines posted a 10.3% demand increase compared to April a year ago. This appears to reflect a combination of the comparatively robust economic backdrop and the strength of the US dollar supporting outbound passenger demand. Capacity climbed 5.8%, and load factor jumped 3.3 percentage points to 81.8%.
  • Latin American airlines experienced a 16.1% rise in April demand compared to the same month last year, which was the fastest rate for the region’s carriers since December 2011. Demand conditions within South America are robust, although traffic on the larger North-South America route has trended downwards in seasonally-adjusted terms since mid-2015. Capacity rose 8.4% and load factor surged 5.5 percentage points to 82.7%.
  • African airlines’ led all regions in growth with a 17.2% traffic increase in April, the fastest pace in more than five years. This follows a recovery in demand on the key market to Europe. Conditions in the continent’s two largest economies are diverging, however, with business confidence rising in Nigeria, while political uncertainty remains heightened in South Africa. Capacity rose just 6.1%, with the result that load factor soared 6.9 percentage points to 72.5%,

Domestic Passenger Markets       

Demand for domestic travel climbed 7.7% in April compared to April 2016, while capacity increased 6.2%, causing load factor to rise 1.2 percentage points to 83.0%. All markets reported demand increases with the exception of Australia, which showed a 2.1% decline.

April 2017
(% year-on-year)

World share¹

RPK

ASK

PLF     
(%-pt)²     

PLF
(level)³  

Domestic

36.3%     

7.7%

6.2%    

1.2%      

83.0% 

Australia

1.0%

-2.1%

-1.2%

-0.7%

76.5%

Brazil 

1.2%

3.0%

2.2%

0.6%

79.9%

China P.R             

8.7%

12.7%

11.2%       

1.1%

84.6%             

India             

1.3%

15.3%

13.5%

1.3%

85.1%

Japan             

1.1%

6.6%

3.3%             

2.1%

65.1%

Russian Fed.             

1.3%

16.7%

16.2%

0.3%

78.7%

US

14.9%

4.7%

3.2%

1.2%

85.6%

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's airlines posted the fastest year-on-year growth rate at 16.7%. This occurred against an improving economic outlook as oil prices have firmed, and business confidence indicators are quite high by recent historical standards. However, capacity growth mostly kept pace with demand and load factor was nearly flat at 78.7%.
  • US domestic traffic climbed 4.7% in April, boosted by an uptick in demand over the past few months, alongside indications of strong consumer confidence. The domestic US load factor posted an all-time high for the month of April of 85.6%.

IATA AGM : In just a few days, commercial aviation’s center of gravity will shift to Cancun, Mexico, for IATA’s 73rd Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit (4-6 June, 2017). The event is open to accredited journalists

View April passenger traffic analysis (pdf)

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