ACI reports freight slowdown and says barriers to free trade could stifle the flow further

Airports Council International (ACI) World has reported freight volumes slowed to just a 2.3 per cent increase on a year-over-year (YOY) basis in June bringing the year-to-date (YTD) growth figure to 4.8 per cent.

The month’s YTD was more than three percentage points lower than the same period in 2017, and monthly growth rates have been trending downwards since January.

ACI said the two main regional markets for air freight – Asia-Pacific for its international segment and North America for its domestic segment – may be headed towards slower growth given the ongoing trade war between their two largest economies, the United States and China.

ACI World director general, Angela Gittens said: “While ACI has found that passenger traffic has continued to grow at a robust rate, the threat of increased economic uncertainty continues to loom over the air transport industry.

“With the volatility around increased protectionism between major trading nations set to continue to the end of 2018, these barriers to free trade could stifle the flow of cargo even further.

“A stronger commitment to partnership and cooperation is needed to achieve increased growth, not only in cargo but also in passenger volumes, so the benefits of aviation and global connectivity can be realized by the local, regional and national communities that aviation and, in particular, airports serve.”

ACI noted that with adverse trends in trade relations and heightened geopolitical tensions, the odds are not good of 2018 repeating the growth figures recorded in 2017. The 12-month rolling averages for the market have been on a steady decline in recent months, reaching six per cent in June, from eight per cent in January.

Africa’s air freight volumes posted an increase of 11.4 per cent on a YTD basis in June, with most of the region’s major contributors posting double-digit growth. Although the market remains the smallest in the six regions, it has been posting more robust growth figures in the last 12 months and is in the right track to end 2018 with a stronger growth trend than in 2017, where it had grown 7.7 per cent.

Like other regions, Asia-Pacific’s air freight market has been showing signs of a slight slowdown through the first half of the year. June figures for the region reached +4.4 per cent on a YTD basis, after growing 8.6 per cent in 2017.

Given the global context, ACI said the region is showing “significant resilience to shocks”. Asia-Pacific is the world’s largest international air freight market, representing close to 40 per cent of total global volume.

Europe’s air freight market grew by 3.7 per cent on a YTD basis for the first half of 2018. It also noted that the region’s June 2017 YTD figures were “particularly strong”, exacerbating the relatively modest growth figures posted by the region during the period.

After several years of stagnation, air freight volumes in Latin-America-Caribbean have regained momentum in the first six months of 2018. YTD figures for the region stood at 10.6 per cent, with both its domestic and international segments growing at a similar pace.

The Middle East, home to several of the world’s largest international aviation hubs, has experienced no gains in freight volumes for the first half of 2018. Year-over-year decline reached 1.2 per cent in June, down from May’s fall of 0.9 per cent. ACI said there is “no question” that the freight market is suffering from the current regional climate.

Air freight volumes for North American airports grew by 5.7 per cent in the first half of the year. June brought with it a significant slowdown, however, with the region posting 1.7 per cent YOY growth (down from +8.6 per cent in May), dragging its YTD uplift to 5.7 per cent.