Strong Air Cargo Growth Continues in May, But US Challenges Loom

A DHL freighter aircraft loading air cargo
Curimedia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) paints a picture of a thriving air cargo industry in May 2024.

Not only did demand experience its sixth consecutive month of double-digit year-on-year growth (14.7% overall, 15.5% for international), but all regions saw positive performance.

This momentum is fueled by a confluence of factors: burgeoning global trade, the e-commerce boom, and limited capacity in maritime shipping.

However, a cloud hangs over this seemingly optimistic outlook – stricter US regulations on e-commerce deliveries from China threaten to disrupt a critical trade lane.

These regulations, impacting shipments under $800, may deter US consumers and dampen growth on the critical Asia-North America trade lane.

Tailwinds for Air Cargo

Several positive indicators suggest a favorable environment for air cargo. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for global manufacturing output (52.6) and new export orders (50.4) in May point towards expansion.

This aligns with the observed month-on-month growth in industrial production (0.5%) and global cross-border trade (1.5%).

Additionally, inflation rates presented a mixed picture in April. While the EU and Japan saw a decrease (2.7% and 2.8% respectively), the US rate climbed to 3.3%.

Notably, China’s inflation remained near zero (0.3%), reflecting weak domestic demand.

Regional Growth Overview

Air cargo demand exhibited regional variations in May. Asia-Pacific airlines led the pack with a stellar 17.8% year-on-year growth, particularly on the Africa-Asia trade lane (a staggering 40.6% increase).

North American carriers, though experiencing the weakest global growth (8.7%), saw a promising 12.0% rise on the crucial Asia-North America route.

Europe followed closely with a 17.2% growth surge, driven by a remarkable 25.6% year-on-year increase in intra-European traffic. The Europe-Middle East route also thrived, witnessing a 33.8% demand jump.

Middle Eastern carriers enjoyed a 15.3% demand increase, with the Middle East-Europe market spearheading growth (33.8%).

Latin America displayed a healthy 12.7% growth, while Africa emerged as the global champion with a robust 18.4% increase, fueled by the aforementioned 40.6% surge on the Africa-Asia route.

Photo: National Airlines B747-400F. Photo Credit: RAF-YYC from Calgary, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: RAF-YYC from Calgary, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Potential Dampener on Growth

Despite the positive industry trends, IATA Director General Willie Walsh cautions of a potential challenge.

The impending stricter US regulations on e-commerce deliveries from China, particularly for shipments under $800, could significantly impact the critical Asia-North America trade lane.

This might deter US consumers and hinder growth on this vital route.

A Pacific Air Cargo 747 freighter on the ramp as day breaks.
Photo Credit: Pacific Air Cargo

Looking Ahead: Balancing Optimism with Caution

The air cargo industry finds itself in a period of both opportunity and potential disruption.

While the current operating environment is supportive, with positive purchasing manager expectations for future growth, the US regulatory changes pose a significant threat. Navigating this landscape will require a nuanced approach.

Continued focus on capitalizing on the factors driving current growth – global trade expansion, e-commerce boom, and limited maritime capacity – will be crucial.

Additionally, close monitoring of the impact of US regulations and exploring potential mitigation strategies will be essential to ensure the air cargo industry remains on a sustainable growth trajectory.

The full IATA Air Cargo Market Analysis for May can be accessed here.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read
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