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CARGO Last modified on August 17, 2009

What next for cargo?

ACI is cautiously projecting an upturn in cargo traffic next year, although the road to recovery looks like it will be a long one for airfreight, writes Joe Bates.

ACI’s latest cargo figures for July indicate that the steep downward spiral of the first quarters has ceased, although global freight throughput for the month still fell 8.7% to 4.4 million tonnes.

The decline means that the world’s airports handled 28 million tonnes of cargo in the first six months of 2009 – 17.2% down on the corresponding period a year ago.

Although still starkly lower than July 2008, the monthly decline in tonnage was actually the lowest this year following drops of 22.2% in January, 19.5% in February, 18.5% in March, 18.4% in April, 16% in May and 13.5% in June.

A strong 12.1% increase in domestic cargo traffic at Asia-Pacific airports and a 3.5% rise in international tonnage across the Middle East which resulted in an overall monthly increase of 3.5%, were the main highlights of the July traffic figures.

ACI’s economics director, Andreas Schimm, says: “The Middle East recorded a 3.5% rise in cargo traffic in July and in all five other ACI regions, the worldwide traffic growth percentages for the month were less negative than the results for the first half of the year, which is a positive sign of improvement and a possible indicator that the beginnings of a more durable turnaround are in the making.”

ACI’s recently released World Airport Traffic Report for 2008 shows that global industrial production began to contract in July, followed by a sharp drop in global trade volumes in the last quarter, leading to a collapse in global airfreight peaking in December 2008.

As a result, cargo volumes worldwide fell by 3.7% in 2008. Domestic freight dropped more sharply by 5.4% whereas international freight suffered from a milder 2.4% contraction.

Looking at some key markets, for the year, the Asia-Pacific region lost 25% of its previous year volume in December. The US remained by far the largest air cargo market in the world, accounting for a third of the global volume, even though it shrank by 9.1% both in domestic and international freight. China (including Hong Kong) ranked second, accounting for 13% of global air shipments. Total freight in China grew by 1.8%, with almost equal growth levels in the domestic and international markets.

ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, says: “The downward spiral for cargo year-end has yet to be reversed, with cargo results tied down by the slow resurgence of global trade. Traffic results for the first half of 2009 show that freight remains strongly depressed relative to the first quarter of 2008, with only timid indications of market stabilisation beginning to emerge.”

Memphis maintained its status as the world’s busiest cargo airport in 2008, handling 3.6 million tonnes of freight, although Shanghai Pudong was the only top 10 gateways to register an increase in throughput.

The current economic climate has led ACI to predict that global cargo tonnage will fall 13.3% to 74.7 million tonnes in 2009 before slowly beginning to bounce back from 2010.

Indeed, it looks like being a long road to recovery for freight, with ACI – in collaboration with research and analysis partner DKMA – predicting that it will be 2012 before cargo tonnage returns to 2008 levels.

“The 2009 downturn has been severe and without precedent. It has set the industry back by a couple of years. Low order volumes and industrial production will continue to dampen global trade for the rest of the year 2009 and the recovery will be slow,” admits Schimm.

“Airfreight demand is unlikely to reach pre-crisis levels before 2012 and will again be crucially influenced by the price of oil and hence the cost of shipping by air.”

As ACI’s latest monthly statistics show, the first green shoots of revival are beginning to appear in Asia-Pacific and the hope is that other regions will follow by the end of the year. Things are beginning to look a little better, although nobody should be in any doubt about the fact that the road to recovery is going to be a long-haul.

Airport World 2009 - Issue 4

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