January demand shows further improvement

DEMAND for international scheduled air traffic showed continuing improvement in January. Compared to the previous year, January’s international cargo demand showed a 28.3 per cent improvement with only a 3.7 per cent increase in capacity. This pushed the cargo load factor to 49.6 per cent, which is a significant change from the 40.1 per cent recorded in January last year.

The large increases in year-on-year comparisons reflect a steady improvement from the precipitous fall in demand that characterised the early part of 2009 rather than a dramatic improvement in January. Compared to December 2009, and adjusting for seasonal variations, passenger demand grew by 0.5 per cent while airfreight volumes increased by three per cent.

“Airlines have lost two to three years of growth,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and chief executive officer. “Demand is moving in the right direction. The three per cent increase in freight volumes from December to January is particularly encouraging. We can start to see the future with some cautious optimism, but better volumes do not necessarily mean better profits. We expect 2010 losses to be US$5.6 billion.”

There are large geographical differences in the improvements. The strongest upturns have been seen in markets where economic recovery from the recession has been strongest: Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Compared to the low point in the cycle – December 2008 to January 2009 – international freight traffic has regained about 28 per cent. This is still three to four per cent below the early 2008 peak level.

The sharp improvement in airfreight, which accelerated to three per cent in January compared to December, is being driven by businesses re-stocking depleted inventories. This part of the inventory cycle will not last much longer. Durable airfreight growth will require consumers to start buying again and businesses to return to making investments. While these improvements are beginning to be seen in Asia, Europe and North America lag behind.

With an 11.6 per cent improvement in January compared to the previous year, carriers in Europe stand out for their sluggish demand recovery. Freight volumes are only seven per cent above the December 2008 low and 15 per cent below the cycle peak.

“We are starting to see some encouraging signs in demand, albeit with large differences among the regions,” said Bisignani. “Unfortunately, the constraints of the archaic bilateral system limit airlines from being able to respond as normal businesses to market opportunities. Political borders limit opportunities for consolidation. And we still require governments to negotiate open markets.”

Under the auspices of IATA’s Agenda for Freedom initiative, in November 2009, seven governments (Chile, Malaysia, Panama, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States) and the European Commission signed a multilateral statement of policy principles focused on liberalisation of the air transport industry. Premised on maintaining a level playing field, the policy principles support liberalisation of ownership, market access and pricing. Its latest impact can be seen in the recent signing of an open skies bilateral agreement between Panama and Colombia.

“With each open skies bilateral, we take a step in the right direction. Recovering from the years of lost growth as a result of this crisis is a long and hard journey. Governments should not make it any more difficult by maintaining policies that restrict airlines ability to do business,” said Bisignani.

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