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A welcome return

Transpacific trade lanes have seen an ongoing surge in demand, bringing new life to the freighter sector and challenging airports to act strategically as Rob Coppinger reports

Air cargo has seen the best start to the year in 2018 in three years, following the previous twelve months that saw a double-digit annualised growth rate for much of 2017. Improvements in global trade delivered a 10% growth in air cargo volumes during 2017 and boosted transpacific demand. This has been a boon to the already dominant Asian carriers who carry nearly 40% of global air cargo traffic. Coming a distant second are European carriers at 24% and then North American airlines at 20.5%.


“Asian exports were strong to North America,” reports Association of Asia Pacific Airline (AAPA) Director General, Andrew Herdman. “If you look at the American retailers they wanted the speed of air freight, partly driven by their retail sales outstripping their inventories, things picking up faster than expected, and then drawing in imports.”


The AAPA announced its preliminary traffic figures for the full calendar year of 2017 on 30 January. It stated that international air cargo demand growth for the region’s airlines in that year was its fastest since the freight sector’s post-financial crisis rebound in 2010. In freight tonne kilometres (FTK) terms, demand bounced back in 2017 with 9.8% growth.


All-freight, Luxembourg-based airline Cargolux Airlines International tells Airline Cargo Management that there has been a steady increase in demand for transpacific flights in recent years. “The need for these routes surged in 2017 with the boom of e-commerce which led to a solid volume increase throughout the year,” the company states.


The expectation is that this happy situation is to continue. In its Economics chart of the week, published on 16 March, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) stated: “[The] indicators remain consistent with solid year-on-year FTK [worldwide] growth during 1H18. All told, we continue to forecast 4.5% FTK [worldwide] growth in 2018, broadly in line with its five-year average rate.”


United Parcel Service (UPS) also states that it is “seeing robust demand for small package and freight services across the Pacific and globally”. The company does not publish data about the different regions. It states that, “overall, [its] international export shipments grew by 16% in the 4Q17 and 15% throughout 2017. All regions of the world contributed to that expansion.”


UPS is using the Boeing 747-8 on its Asia to US routes affirming: “The 747-8s are being used on long distance, heavy haul routes, primarily transpacific, so they are giving UPS the additional capacity our customers are demanding on Asia to US lanes.”


Planning for future growth, the all-freight carrier placed an order for 14 747-8s from Boeing in February of last year. UPS asserts that: “To address demand, UPS is growing its air capacity significantly. We have ordered 28 new Boeing 747-8 freighters. Five are in service and the other 23 will be delivered through 2020.” The 28 include the 14 ordered in February 2017. With a total of 35 new aircraft by 2022, UPS Airlines’ total payload capacity will expand by 30%.


AAPA also stated in its 30 January announcement that existing capacity was being utilised more efficiently. “The average international freight load factor rose by 3.2% to 65.2% for the year.” A higher load per flight inevitably means a need for more capacity as well as more flights or aircraft. In 2017, Air Canada Cargo expanded its services to Nagoya and Shanghai and added a new route with Mumbai, all of which are served from Vancouver.


In March last year, Cathay Pacific had announced that San Francisco would have four additional flights per week from October bringing the number of daily flights to three. The expanded daily service uses an Airbus A350 which, like the Boeing 777, is a widebody aircraft with a large bellyhold capacity. Both types of aircraft have substantial cargo capacity despite primarily being passenger aircraft. >>


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