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Middle East and Latin America immune to cargo slump

By Hpanchal on September 1, 2011

Despite weak cargo numbers all around, July freight volumes grew significantly for Middle East and Latin American carriers, International Air Transport Association data revealed. Rising a respective 8.4 percent and 8.2 percent, these numbers deviate greatly from the 0.4-percent freight decrease reported throughout the industry.

Asia-Pacific airlines posted the biggest losses in July. Cargo volumes for these carriers fell 3.6 percent from 2010, driven largely by the residual effects of March’s tsunami and earthquake in Japan. The “general economic gloom” also contributed to this decline, an IATA spokesman asserted.

Although international airfreight markets outperformed domestic sectors in July, the difference was marginal. Improving one percentage point from the beginning of the year, global cargo volumes were only 3-percent higher than pre-recession levels; they also plummeted 5 percent from their early-2010 peak.

July airfreight volumes weren’t the only areas of concern, however. Freight load factor also fell significantly in July, dropping to the pre-recession level of 45 percent. IATA officials blame this phenomenon on increased capacity and reduced demand. Nevertheless, Asia-Pacific carriers did slightly better than their global counterparts, reporting load factor levels of 58.1 percent.

The issue is multifaceted, IATA officials explained. “While the [Asia-Pacific] suffers from a major imbalance with strong outward flows of manufactured goods and weak inbound traffic, the scale of their home carrier operations allows for better capacity utilization,” they said. Still, July load factor for Asia-Pacific freight carriers was markedly lower than in 2010, decreasing 2.1 percent year over year.

The August tonnage results for Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited back up IATA's data. Last month, Hactl handled 221,375 tonnes of freight, a year-over-year decline of 9.3 percent. Tonnage for the first eight months of 2011 is 5.6 percent lower than last year.

Breaking down overall tonnage, both imports and exports experienced a decline in August, leading to negative growth of 8.9 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively. Transshipment, however, increased 1.7 percent during the month when compared to August 2010.

Unfortunately, the rest of 2011 doesn’t look promising for carriers outside the Middle East and Latin America. In fact, IATA Director General Tony Tyler envisions the situation getting worse before it improves. “With business and consumer confidence now tanking, sluggishness in international trade and high fuel prices, the expectation is for a weaker end to the year,” Tyler said in a statement.

Passenger declines haven’t yet caught up with freight losses, however. Global passenger traffic actually grew 5.9 percent from July 2010.

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