Air cargo demand in February was up 26.5 per cent on last year, according to figures from the International Air Transport Association.
Cargo traffic hit bottom in December 2008, with little improvement realise by February 2009. It still has a further three per cent to recover to return to pre-crisis levels.
However, European airlines are benefiting least from the upturn in air freight volumes, with year-on-year growth of only 7.2 per cent in February, compared to 26.5 per cent on average.
Despite the sluggish US economy, North American airlines have seen a rebound (+34.1 per cent) equivalent to those experienced by Asia-Pacific (+34.5 per cent) and Latin American airlines (+41.9 per cent). While US GDP expanded at 5.9 per cent during the fourth quarter, consumer spending was up just 1.7 per cent. The bulk of the expansion is attributed to businesses restocking inventories.
IATA said the global strong air freight upturn has been largely driven by the business inventory cycle. “We can expect this part of the cycle to wear-out in the second half of the year when inventories reach normal levels. From that point, we can expect slower growth as air freight will be driven by consumer spending and world trade growth.”
Director general Giovanni Bisignani said: “We are moving in the right direction. In two to three months, the industry should be back to pre-recession traffic levels. This is still not a full recovery. The task ahead is to adjust to two years of lost growth.”
“While the numbers are improving, the year has started with two disappointments,” said Bisignani. “The first is in Europe. We anticipate Europe to post US$2.2 billion in losses this year—the highest among the regions. Weak European passenger and freight demand is in line with our forecast. It is disappointing to see labour at European airlines engaging in strikes when the fragile industry needs to focus on improving efficiency and reducing costs.
“The second is the failure to address ownership issues in second stage talks on open skies between the EU and the US. Last week’s agreement was not a step backwards. The gains from the stage one talks have not been lost. But the two sides missed an opportunity at this critical time to give airlines the much needed normal commercial freedom to access global capital markets without the limitations of outdated foreign ownership restrictions embedded in the current bilateral system,” said Bisignani.