CLIVE: Air cargo load factors “exceptional” as unpredictable market continues

By Damian Brett

January saw air cargo load factors and rates pick up quickly after a post-Christmas slowdown in the first part of the year.

The latest statistics from CLIVE Data Services show that in January, dynamic cargo load factors for the month stood at 66%, an increase of nine percentage points compared with a year ago.

However, in the last two weeks of the month there was an “exceptional” 10-15 percentage point increase on the same weeks in 2020.

Niall van de Wouw, managing director of CLIVE Data Services, said flights in January were “very full for the time of year”.

This could be related to consumers spending more on high-value products than services such as travel and leisure.  

Van de Wouw said: “January’s load factors might be considered odd compared to previous years, but they are also not surprising when you look at the current dynamics in the industry.

“One airline recently mentioned to me that they had ‘November volumes in January’ — but it’s not free money.

“The market is very demanding and constantly changing, also because of the regulatory Covid landscape.

“Airlines are having to ‘fly by sight’ as you simply cannot know what is around the next corner.

“When we read that some carriers are telling customers they cannot guarantee their capacity commitments in January and February, this tells you how full flights are.

“On a lane level, for example, westbound and eastbound load factors across the Atlantic were higher in January than they were in November and December at 88% and 76% respectively.

“Capacity is tight and we sense no underlying currents which will swiftly change this.”

Meanwhile, data from TAC Index shows that prices out of Asia dropped in the first couple of weeks of January before regaining last ground in the last part of the month.

TAC Index business development director Robert Frei said: “On some sectors ex Hong Kong and China, if we looked only at the monthly change in airfreight rates, we would see a near -25% drop in January over December.

“If we were not aware of the strong increase in the last week of January, we could possibly assume that, despite the upcoming Chinese New Year, there is a continuing negative trend, but market consensus has it that rate negotiations between shippers, forwarders and carriers are much more short term again (weekly or even per shipment) and, as a result, the number of spot rates has increased drastically compared to previous years. In our numbers we see big spreads.”

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