Air freight traffic lift gives airlines bright start to 2014

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Global air freight grew 4.5% in January over the same month in 2013, a marked improvement on the sluggish growth that has plagued the air cargo market over the last couple of years.

The IATA figures for January show growth outpaced the 2.2% increase seen in December, itself an improvement on a growth rate of just 1.4% in air freight as a whole during 2013.

IATA reports growth was solid across all region. While the Middle East carriers, led by the fast-expanding Gulf airlines, continue to grow at the fastest rate at nearly 11% in January, but there were positive signs for European and Asia-Pacific operators too.

European air freight levels were 6% higher in January as the region continues to step out from recession. "Surveys of business activity in the Eurozone show the strongest rate of increase in two-and-a-half years. If these feed through into trade volume growth, then it should be positive for European air cargo in the coming months," says IATA.

Asia-Pacific carriers - which account for around 40% of the global air freight market - increased air cargo traffic nearly 4%. This compares to a decline of more than 1% in 2013. "Trade volumes in the region have rebounded as demand from Europe and North America for Asian manufactured goods improves," IATA says.

But it was not all good news for Asia-Pacific carriers. IATA points to indications that the Chinese economy could be slowing down which would impact cargo in the coming months, while the early falling of the Chinese new year in 2014 is likely to see slower comparable growth for February. And while the region's carriers returned growth in January, freight traffic among Asian operators continues to fall short of the additional capacity - almost 10% - added during the month.

"The improvement in demand is good news. It is a step-up in pace from the mild strengthening that we saw towards the second half of 2013. And in real terms, volumes are similar to the 2010 post-recession peak," says IATA director general Tony Tyler. IATA has over the last six months been flagging that while passenger business fortunes have been improving, air freight has remained sluggish as global trade has not picked up in line with the economic improvement.

"Protectionist measures are part of the reason for a slower expansion of world trade than we would expect from current levels of industrial production. Companies continue to re-organise supply chains in their efforts to move manufacturing on-shore," says Tyler.