Shocking drop in global air cargo confirms global economic meltdown

The recently announced results by The International Air Transport Association (IATA), is nothing short of shocking.

International air cargo is down by a whopping 13.5 per cent in November when compared to November 2007, and passenger growth is down by 4.6 per cent.

Graph legend
RPK – Revenue Passenger Kilometres (sales)
ASK – Available Seat Kilometres (capacity)
FTK – Freight Ton Kilometres (sales)
ATK – Available Ton Kilometres (capacity)

Even for year to date comparisons January to November between 2008 and 2007, global air cargo is down 2.2 per cent

Globally air cargo transports about 35 per cent to 40 per cent of global trade, by value. The negative growth in air cargo clearly shows the rapid fall in global trade, and the broadening impact of the deepening economic slowdown.

Even the middle east, the region showing consistent growth, slipped in to negative territory at -1.6 per cent. The largest air freight zone, Asia Pacific, which contributes 44.6 per cent to global air freight, contracted by the largest -16.90 per cent. Capacity cuts of 1 per cent in passenger and 3.7 per cent in cargo, could not keep up with the rapid declines.

As per data from the Airports Authority of India, available till October 2008; India year-to-date passenger performance is significantly worse than the rest of Asia Pacific and global performance. Passenger growth is down to -3.4 per cent vs. -0.8 per cent (Asia Pacific) and +2.2 per cent global.

However on the freight front, India has a Y-T-D growth of 4.2 per cent based on actual tonnage, compared to -4.7 per cent in Asia Pacific and -2.2 per cent globally.

For some unexplainable reason, Bangalore’s performance is way below the national standard, at -14.8 per cent and -5.3 per cent for monthly passenger and freight performance, and -8 per cent and -7 per cent for year to date passenger and freight performance.

Highlights of the IATA report :

International Passenger Traffic

  • The November passenger decline of 4.6% is a considerable worsening from both the 1.3% demand contraction in October and the 2.9% fall in September.
  • Asia-Pacific carriers face the most difficult operating environment with a 9.7% decline in November, following a 6.1% contraction in October. The region also had the most aggressive capacity cuts at -5.1%. While Chinese domestic traffic rebounded after the Olympics, travel to and from international markets continues to decline, reflecting the weakness in both global trade and consumer confidence.
  • North American carriers saw international traffic decline by 4.8% – the second largest drop among the regions. Until August, the region’s carriers had been shifting capacity to international markets. With the near collapse of the investment banking sector and consequent reductions in business travel, North Atlantic travel slumped. Carriers have started to cut international capacity with a 0.8% drop in November (following 0.4% growth in October)
  • European carriers saw international traffic drop by 3.4% as all the region’s major markets (intra-Europe, North Atlantic, and Asia) slumped.
  • Smaller emerging markets fared better. African carriers saw traffic decline by 1.6%. This is a considerable improvement from the 12.9% drop in October, resulting from stronger intra-African traffic. Middle Eastern carriers saw traffic increase by 5.6%. This is up from 3.5% growth in October, but represents a step-change from the double-digit expansion that characterized growth prior to the current financial crisis. Latin American carriers saw a slight decline in growth to 3.3% (compared to 4.5% growth in October), buoyed by the region’s positive, albeit slower, economic growth.

International Freight Traffic

  • Asia-Pacific carriers (representing 44.6% of global freight) saw freight traffic fall by 16.9% in November – the largest decline of any region. As freight accounts for a larger percentage of revenues for the Asia-Pacific carriers, fourth quarter profits for the region’s carriers will be disproportionately (and negatively) impacted by the downturn in the global air freight market.
  • Double-digit freight declines were also experienced by Latin American carriers (-15.7%), North American carriers (-14.4%) and European carriers (-11.0%). Freight traffic for Middle Eastern carriers turned negative (-1.6%), following 1.0% growth in October. African carriers, while being the only region posting freight growth (2.2%), saw a decline from the 3.0% growth posted in October. Plummeting business confidence and the continuing turmoil in financial markets indicates that the worsening trend will be continued in December.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO said

“The industry is now shrinking by all measures. The 1.0% capacity cut in international passenger markets in November could not keep pace with the 4.6% fall in passenger demand. We can expect deep losses in the fourth quarter,”

“With no end in sight for the worsening global economy, the 2008 gloom will carry over into the new year. Relief in the oil price has been outstripped by the falls in demand and capacity cuts are not keeping pace. The industry is back in intensive care. Improving efficiency everywhere will be theme for 2009,”

While the end to the global economic slowdown is still much further away than expected, the freight performance in India, shows us, the Indian economy is still performing well. We have to defeat the FUD Factor (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) that is in our minds.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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