Despite the recent flat-lining economy, the U.S. still accounts for 18 percent of global airfreight tonnage and an even higher 21 percent by revenue.
Discussing the three-to-five-year indicators, an expert panel at the IATA World Cargo Symposium discussed whether the gradual fall in the U.S. unemployment rate and an apparent rise in consumer confidence presaged a return to happier times for the industry.
Jim Billing, director, airline market analysis at Boeing, said he hopes 2013 can be a year of transition when the industry can put its recent grim past behind it. Even in Europe, despite its continuing economic weakness, there was the prospect of a stronger second half.
Gert-Jan Jansen, executive director of Seabury Group, warned that modal shift had cost the air cargo industry 10 percent of its volume, or 2.6 million tonnes. On transpacific routes especially, ocean transportation was showing much faster growth than air.
Robbie Anderson, president of United Cargo, said the key challenge was to make further reductions in transit time to avert further loss of volume, as all alternative transport modes were gaining ground at air’s expense. Shipping lines were developing “moving warehouses” so that foodstuffs, for example, would continue growing in transit from Latin America to North America.
Truck manufacturers meanwhile were making design changes to achieve 35 percent more capacity without increasing the total size of the vehicle, while the rail industry was investing heavily in double container stacking, and seaports were getting slicker at transferring goods from ship to rail.
“We’ve really got to focus on what we can do to stay competitive,” Anderson said.
Planes are not going to fly faster, and he insisted the key is in better processes and linkages on the ground, as the integrators had achieved. “Transit is not a six or seven-day process for them,” he said.
The move toward E-freight, and in particular regulators’ approval of electronic clearance, would bring airfreight more into line with the integrator model, Anderson said.
There are sharp differences of opinions as to whether carriers will take more and more cargo in their passenger belly-holds. Boeing sees a 60:40 split in favor of freighters going forward, but Billing accepted that other analysts see the ratio moving nearer 50:50.
It was once a given that freighter growth was double the rate of cargo growth on passenger aircraft, Anderson said. But the trend had reversed in the last five to seven years, and 70 percent of cargo would be flying on passenger wide-bodies by 2030.
“No North American carrier operates freighters now. We will continue to buy twin-aisle planes,” Anderson asserted.