General air cargo demand takes off thanks to e-com and ocean disruption

Credit: tratong/ Shutterstock

General cargo has been growing at a faster rate than special products so far this year as a result of growing e-commerce demand and disruption in the container shipping industry.

Stats from data provider WorldACD show that over the first five months of the year, general cargo volumes increased by 13% while special products – such as perishables, dangerous goods, high tech and pharma – increased by 10%. The overall market was up by 12% year on year.

This reverses a trend of recent years in which “demand from air cargo shipments requiring special handling and shipping has broadly outperformed general cargo”.

“One factor for this is the strong growth since the start of last autumn in cross-border e-commerce traffic, which often flies in bulk as general cargo rather than within a special product category, as well as the conversion of seafreight to air cargo and sea-air resulting from disruptions since last November to container shipping due to the attacks on vessels in the Red Sea,” WorldACD said.

“These two factors have contributed to significant year-on-year rises in chargeable weight in the five months to May 2024 from Asia Pacific (+20%) and Middle East & South Asia (MESA, +22%).”

Source: WorldACD

The research shows that the fastest growing special product was vulnerables/high tech and also meat, both at 25% year on year. Fruit and vegetable volumes increased by 10% and flowers 6%.

In contrast, human remains was down 10%, live animals fell 7% and fish/seafood dropped 1%.

Globally, the proportion of special cargo products within the total market averaged 35% in the five months to May 2024.

However, WorldACD said performance varied from region to region.

“For example, general cargo makes up around 70% of the key Asia Pacific origin market, although the growth of special cargo from Asia Pacific (+24%) is higher this year than for general cargo (+18%),” noted the company.

Other stats revealed in the report show that Hong Kong was the fastest growing origin in May with volumes increasing by 30,000 tonnes, followed by China south east, China east, India and UAE.

Meanwhile, the market share of the largest forwarders “remains more or less stable” as they have 25% of the market in May compared with 26% a year ago.

Finally, freighter operators have seen their volumes pick up by 6% in the first five months of the year but cargo carried by passenger operators is ahead 13% and mixed fleets also 13%.

Ocean and airfreight rate differential narrows


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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector. After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015. Contact me on [email protected]