Airlines renew protectionism warnings as air freight growth slumps

May 03, 2018
cargo world trade IATA
Cargo growth fell in June. Photo: Alexandr Markin/Wikimedia Commons.

Airlines have again warned about global protectionism after air freight growth slumped to a   22-month low in March as businesses finished restocking and global economic trade softened.

Demand in freight-tonne kilometres rose just 1.7 percent in March compared to a year ago and was five percentage points lower than the February figure, according to the latest report by the International Air Transport Association.

Capacity rose faster than demand for the first time in 20 months, despite a reduction in growth from 6.3 percent in February to 4.4 percent in March.

“It’s normal that growth slows at the end of a restocking cycle,’’ IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said. “That clearly has happened. “

IATA remains confident air cargo demand will still grow by 4 to 5 percent this year but de Juniac said there were headwinds.

“Oil prices have risen strongly, and economic growth is patchy,’’ he said. “The biggest damage could be political. The implementation of protectionist measures would be an own-goal for all involved—especially the US and China.”

Read: IATA warns Trump trade war could hit demand.

All regions except Latin America reported year-on-year growth declines in March.

The Asia-Pacific, which accounts for about 37 percent of the global air freight market, grew only 0.7 percent.

“Export orders in Japan and Korea have fallen in recent months and the region remains particularly exposed to the impact of protectionist measures,’’ IATA said.

Africa moved into negative territory with freight tonne kilometres down 3.4 percent in March compared to a particularly strong month last year.

IATA noted  Africa had reported the fastest growth of all regions for 17 of the last 18 months and said it would be premature to suggest this was the start of a negative trend

A 1 percent rise in Europe was partially attributed to a stronger Euro and a softening of export orders in Germany but the IATA report said the region’s seasonally-adjusted trend had been slowing in recent months.

“Middle East carriers saw growth of 0.8 percent in March compared to March 2017,’’ the report said. “This is consistent with the general weakening in regional performance over recent months, and in particular may reflect an especially strong March 2017 result.”

“North American carriers’ freight volumes expanded 3.9 percent compared to March 2017. The US inventory-to-sales ratio has risen in 2018, indicating the boost to cargo growth from restocking is over.”