Falling oil price may accelerate existing growth trend in air freight

The latest air cargo service provider to report surging demand is HACTL (Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminal Ltd), which saw year-on-year growth at over 9% for November to reach a new peak volume of 176,103 tonnes for the month. This was in-line with trends seen earlier in the year, with the third quarter seeing a growth of 10.1% year-on-year.

Cathy Pacific and its subsidiary DragonAir saw its November cargo tonnage rise 12% year-on-year whilst revenue for Cathay Pacific was up by 14% for the year-to-date. Load factors tightened by 4.7% over the past month.

Both HACTL and Cathay ascribed the growth to similar causes. The most dynamic route was trans-pacific, helped by the problems at US container ports. Mark Sutch, General Manager Cargo Sales & Marketing at Cathay said, “The demand for air cargo shipments remained very robust throughout November. Intra-Asian traffic remained robust in November, and it was a better month for our cargo business in Europe, helped by big shipments of the new-release Beaujolais out of France. We carried close to 2,000 tonnes of the wine in total, most of it bound for Japan.” Similarly HACTLs saw growing US west coast port congestion as a driver of demand as well as the usual seasonal factors and the launch of new mobile products.

In contrast, passenger demand is moderate with increases in low single digit percentages with a background of more muted growth in China and much of the rest of Asia Pacific.

Outside Asia Pacific, Etihad also experienced increasing demand for cargo, with a 7% year-on-year increase in tonnage in November, although in part this reflects the Abu Dhabi, UAE, based carrier expansion in capacity.

Looking at the underlying trend, it appears that the biggest driver of growth is consumer demand in the US. However specific issues, such as the continuing problems at American ports, are also leading to spikes in demand. UPS stated that it saw higher consumer demand as having a significant effect on inventories for at least the next quarter leading to the need for rapid replenishment for consumer driven supply chains. All of these effects were being felt before oil experienced its steepest decline in price, so it is possible that the lower fuel surcharges may amplify demand for air freight further both over December and into 2015.