INTERNATIONAL air freight volumes are forecast to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 4.1 per cent over the next five years, according to the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) Airline Industry Forecast 2014-2018.
The fastest growing market are expected to be emerging economies, particularly the Middle East and Africa.
"This year, more than US$6.8 trillion worth of goods, equivalent to 35 per cent of total world trade by value, will be transported around the world by air," said IATA director general Tony Tyler, former CEO of Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways.
Since 2011 growth in freight tonnes has averaged 0.63 per cent per year. But the industry cannot afford to be complacent, Mr Tyler warned.
"Despite the positive picture, the overall risks to the economic outlook, and therefore to air freight, remain towards the downside. Trade protectionism is a constant danger," he said.
"According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), between November 2013 and May 2014 alone, 112 new trade-restrictive measures were enacted by G20 governments. Geopolitical concerns, volatility of oil prices, and competition from rail and sea could also affect this forecast."
To enhance air cargo competitiveness, the industry is aiming to cut average transit times by up to 48 hours by 2020. To achieve this, airfreight is modernising its processes, improving quality and reliability, and widening the range of services offered.
A key component of modernised processes is the e-Freight project, which will render air cargo shipments paperless. As a first step, the industry is adopting the e-Air Waybill (e-AWB). In September 2014 global e-AWB penetration reached 19.4 per cent, meaning the 2014 industry target of 22 per cent is within reach.
The United States, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will each be adding one million additional tonnes of freight by 2018.
The fastest growing international routes will be between the Middle East and Asia, at 6.2 per cent. Within Middle East (4.6 per cent), North America to South America (3.9 per cent), and Europe to Southern Africa (3.8 per cent).
Significant volume imbalances will continue. The imbalance in flows from Asia to North America is estimated to be 1.1 million tonnes in 2018, and from Asia to the Middle East the imbalance will be 0.6 million tonnes.
By 2018, the 10th largest international air freight markets will be the US (10,054,000 tonnes), China (5,639,000), the UAE (4,974,000), Germany (4,763,000), Hong Kong (4,648,000), Korea (3,487,000), Japan (3,480,000), the United Kingdom (2,808,000), Chinese Taipei (2,350,000) and India (2,223,000).
Source: Vietnam Shipping Gazette