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Editor's note – September 2013

“You cannot forecast the market at the moment – and anyone who says they can, is wrong.” So said one senior transport analyst recently – as did a carrier, and a forwarder.

What does seem likely, however, is that things aren’t getting worse. Air freight has been bumping along at a lacklustre level for some time now, and it feels like this is – we hope – the bottom. But how long the market will stay there is anyone’s guess.


There are glimmers of optimism. It may be feeble, but according to IATA, June saw growth of 1.2%. And there are signs from the forwarders, who have been having a tough time of it – especially in air freight – that they are marginally more confident. Agility plans to keep air freight as 50% of its business (see Agility is key), while Panalpina, which had been suffering from its heavy exposure to air, saw volumes increase 3% in the second quarter. And, it says, “[we] still anticipate a continuing recovery in our air freight business”.


According to new figures from Transport Intelligence, the air freight forwarding market was worth the same in 2012 as sea freight at about €63 billion. Yet air freight had declined more than 4% from 2011, while sea freight rose 11.5%.


There is some hope for the second half of this year. While the expected hi-tech product launches will probably benefit just a few, and be relatively short-lived, the cutback in belly capacity as airlines move into the winter season should help yields.


But the rest of the year will, for many, be about positioning. Those carriers which have struggled will hope to finalise their restructuring. Cargolux still needs an investor: at the time of going to press, potential candidates included AirBridgeCargo – although there has been some doubt as to whether it has the capital available – Centurion Air Cargo, Hainan Group, and Henan Province, home to Zhengzhou airport. Air Cargo Germany looked set to remain flightless after a potential investor pulled out and Swissport is readying itself to buy Servisair.


Over in the US, American is finalising its merger with US Airways, and several carriers are working on finding new business that doesn’t revolve around the US military, or delving into the Latin American market. While these changes have been on the agenda for some time, there is certainly a feeling that there is less scrabbling, less panic and a more measured approach being taken.


It would be good to be able to say that if you have survived thus far, and – if not turning a profit, are breaking even – then you are well placed to benefit from any upturn. But, as noted earlier, the market these days is near-impossible to predict.

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