Top air forwarders expect continued capacity constraints for 2021

By Damian Brett

The heads of Deutsche Post (DP) DHL and Kuehne+Nagel (K+N) are both expecting airfreight capacity to remain constrained for the rest of the year.

Speaking to analysts following the announcement of K+N’s 2020 financial figures, the forwarder’s chief executive Detlef Trefzger was asked whether he expected airfreight rates to collapse this year.

In response, Trefzger said the market is currently driven by a lack of belly capacity, which is down by around 90% compared with pre-Covid levels, due to coronavirus related travel declines.

“We do not expect this capacity to be back and available before 2024, 2025,” he said, later adding: “We might see the first signs of yield slight decline, as of 2022. It really depends on alternative capacity, which is belly capacity.”

Trefzger added that air cargo demand is being boosted by issues in container shipping, with customers having to wait at some ports, Long Beach in the US for example, 16 days to have containers unloaded.

“That is causing an additional demand,” he added. “And the capacity is still tight, we don’t see any change in capacity.”

Frank Appel, DP DHL group chief executive, was similarly cautious on when air cargo capacity would return to previous levels.

He said that people may initially be reluctant to travel and this will hold back the re-introduction of belly capacity.

“Regional travel probably will recover much faster, but intercontinental travel will take longer,” Appel said in an investor call following its full year results announcement. “So this year, we will not see a massive rebound of belly space capacity, maybe next year.”

He added that if capacity does start to come back next year, it would happen over a couple of quarters, rather than there being an instant increase.

“There’s enough demand already to fly more, but it’s mainly driven because consumers or citizens will not change their mind so rapidly to travel long distance again,” he added.

Looking further ahead, Appel would not be drawn on his expectations on capacity given the current market dynamics, although he did expect people to begin flying again at some point.

“We are still human beings,” he said “We have not changed; we want to see our friends and we want to go on vacation. Of course, we have to play a role as well in our company to see the people on the ground and say hello and give them a hug once in a while.

“Our fundamental needs as human beings have not changed due to Covid-19. So that’s the reason why I believe we will go back. Is that the same capacity in 2024 or even more or less? I think that’s a little bit looking into the glass ball.”

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