US air cargo volumes show big declines with top trading partners

AIR cargo volumes globally fell by 3

21 October 2019 - 19:00
AIR cargo volumes globally fell by 3.9 per cent in August, according to data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing 10 consecutive months of year-on-year declines. According to WorldACD, global volumes measured in kilogrammes were down 7.1 per cent and yields fell by 9.4 per cent in August.

With regards to the US' international trade, Census Bureau statistics show imports by air rose in value through August by 1.2 per cent, however, tonnage decreased by 3.9 per cent. The value of air exports from the US rose by 0.5 per cent, but tonnage was down by six per cent, reported New York's FreightWaves.

More significantly, US trade data shows big declines this year in the top US trading partners. It's a huge gap for airlines, forwarders, customs brokers, air cargo handlers and trucking firms that all service the air cargo business to fill.

For air cargo, China is twice as large as the next country, both for import and export volumes. In 2018, China and Hong Kong combined represented 26.8 per cent of the imported tonnes flown by air to the US. Germany was in second place at 8.7 per cent. All other Asian countries (Northeast and Southeast) together accounted for 17 per cent of the volumes.

With trade wars and tariffs this year, China is currently flying 10.1 per cent less tonnage by air to the US. That deficit represents 10,600 tonnes per month of lost air cargo, equivalent to 97 full Boeing 747-400 freighters monthly.

Widening that hole for air cargo to backfill is the sharp drop in German traffic. While air imports from Germany are up in value by 6.7 per cent through August, tonnage is down 8.2 per cent, with declines averaging 21.5 per cent over the last three reporting months. This loss is 2,900 tonnes per month in 2019. High value but lower weight pharmaceuticals shipments averaging US$4,814 per kilogramme are replacing lower value but high-volume automotive parts worth $22/kg.

Japan, the third-largest supplier of import air cargo to the US, is down 10 per cent year to date, or 2,400 tonnes monthly, mainly due to less auto parts shipments.

Recovering and replacing lost tonnage from China by other supplier nations is occurring, but slowly and inconsistently. Imports from Vietnam have grown 77 per cent in value and 13 per cent in tonnage year to date. That's worth 1,200 tonnes more per month. However, in August itself, Vietnam air imports were slightly down.

Taiwan has seen 29 per cent more imports by value and 13 per cent more volume, worth 1,000 tonnes monthly. India is up overall for the year by five per cent in kilos.

The UK is also increasing traffic to the US, up eight per cent or 1,200 tonnes per month. These top four growth countries combined are up 4,000 tonnes per month.

In spite of the US-China trade war, US air exports to China rose in value by 4.1 per cent through August; however, volumes declined by 13.8 per cent, worth 6,000 tonnes per month.

Yet reduced automotive shipments, semiconductor manufacturing and fruits and vegetables are significantly impacting volumes to Japan (down seven per cent), South Korea (down 11 per cent), the UK (down six per cent) and Germany (down five per cent). Between these four are another 5,300 tonnes less of air cargo per month flying from the US.

Offsetting this is the rise of Chile and Vietnam as the fast-growing new US export markets, each with 26 per cent more tonnage year to date.

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