Top of the cycle

Will a global slowdown end air cargo’s growth next year?

Alex Lennane

2018 in air cargo can be summed up quite succinctly: it was a pretty good year.

There are two caveats: growth was unexceptional, given the high demand in 2017; and escalating trade tensions have led to uncertainty, although it has not yet dampened the air freight market.

The peak of 2017 triggered both forwarders and airlines to look more closely at the amount of capacity they controlled. While airlines were keen to enjoy potential spikes in spot rates by keeping capacity back, the policy had mixed results. Demand out of Asia was strong and justified forwarders booking space in advance, but the market was weaker in Europe – last-minute spot rates did not fulfil the high expectations carriers were hoping for.

Nevertheless, both buyers and sellers said that a rough 50:50 split between booked capacity and ad hoc had worked well – and both are talking of a similar amount in 2019.

However, industry sentiment suggests next year could be weaker. Supply chains may be unpredictable, although shifts in trade tend to play well for air cargo, initially at least.

A darker cloud is the global economy. The International Monetary Fund and others have issued stark warnings and many predict a global recession in 2020, with its roots forming in 2019.