Air Freight Had a Good Year in 2010

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has reported full-year 2010 demand statistics for international scheduled air traffic that showed an 8.2% increase in the passenger business and a 20.6% increase in freight. Demand growth outstripped capacity increases of 4.4% for passenger and 8.9% for cargo. Average passenger load factor for the year was 78.4%, which is a 2.7 percentage point improvement on 2009. The freight load factor saw a 5.2 percentage point improvement to 53.8%.

Compared to the pre-recession levels of early 2008, December air travel volumes were 4% higher. Air freight was 1% higher than pre-recession levels; however volumes have fallen 5% since the peak of the post-recession inventory re-stocking boom in early 2010.

“The world is moving again. After the biggest demand decline in the history of aviation in 2009, people started to travel and do business again in 2010. Airlines ended the year slightly ahead of early 2008 volumes, but with a pathetic 2.7% profit margin. The challenge is to turn the demand for mobility into sustainable profits,” says Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO.

Severe weather in Europe and North America in December put a dent in the industry’s recovery. It is estimated that this shaved 1% off of total traffic demand for the month. As a result passenger demand dipped to 4.9% growth on December 2009 levels, significantly lower than the 8.2% growth recorded in November. Hardest hit was Europe which saw December growth slow to 3.3%.

Freight demand growth varied wildly over the year, from a high of 35.2% in May to a low of 5.8% in November. Overall the industry is trending towards normal growth pattern in line with the historical growth rate of 5-6%.

The regional variation in growth remains particularly marked. Latin American carriers recorded the highest full-year growth rate of 29.1%, followed by Middle East carriers (accounting for 11% of the market) at 26.7%, Asia Pacific airlines (with a 45% market share) grew by 24.0%, Africa at 23.8% and North America by 21.8%. Against these industry gains, Europe’s 10.8% growth stands out as exceptionally weak.

“The story this month is the sharp rise in oil prices. We predicted that 2011 would see a consecutive second year of profitability but with industry profits falling by 40% to $9.1 billion. This was based on an oil price of $84 per barrel (Brent). Fuel accounts for 27% of operating costs and a sustained rise in the oil price could spoil the party. With uncertainties in the Middle East, oil prices are now hovering near the $100 per barrel mark. For every dollar increase in the average price of a barrel of oil over the year, airlines face the difficult task of recovering an additional $1.6 billion in costs,” says Bisignani.

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