Air Cargo

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'Time for a new baseline' as air cargo capacity rose above pre-pandemic level

Global air cargo volumes fell -4% year-on-year in February as available cargo capacity rose above the pre-pandemic level for the first time in four years, according to the latest weekly market analysis from CLIVE Data Services, part of Xeneta.

Global air cargo capacity increased for the eleventh consecutive month in February, up 11% on the same period last year. The global average air freight spot rate of USD 2.73 per kg declined -35% year-on-year but remained +52% ahead of the pre-Covid level seen in 2019.

Niall van de Wouw, Chief Airfreight Officer at Xeneta, said the latest data means it’s time for the industry to let go of pre-Covid comparisons and to acknowledge a new baseline for air cargo market growth.

“CLIVE Data Services was one of the first industry analysts to benchmark data versus the pre-pandemic level because a comparison was needed at the time to accurately measure air cargo’s performance. But the fascination and rhetoric around airfreight rates going back to the 2019 level needs to be replaced based on the inflationary components we now see. Name me a service or product that you acquired four years ago that you’re still paying the same price for now? The air cargo industry should be focused on where growth is going to come from because the general air cargo volumes have seen negative growth for four years, and based on the first two months of 2023 are still -8% in terms of chargeable weight compared to four years ago. That is not a growth market,” he said, adding 2019 was also a relatively weak year for air cargo after a buoyant 2018.
He added: “The volumes are not there, flights are less full, and more capacity will be coming in April as summer flight schedules commence, so I don’t see fundamental changes that will help the current market conditions. There is a hope and expectation of volumes increasing in Q3 as companies restock, but when I talk to shippers, I don’t hear anyone saying they’re going to ship more airfreight. If restocking comes, many shippers will look firstly to use cheaper modes of transport and, from where we are now, even if there is a boost, we might still be seeing zero overall growth for general air cargo by later in the year.”

The market, he said, will be especially tough for cargo handlers which are dependent on the input of volume.

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