China Air Cargo exporting Northwest Cherries.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Airline Industry Forecast 2014-2018 shows that international freight volumes are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1% over the next five years. Emerging economies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, will be the fastest-growing markets.
“Air cargo remains as vital to the global economic system as ever. This year, more than $6.8 trillion worth of goods, equivalent to 35% of total world trade by value, will be transported around the world by air. So it is welcome to see a forecast for a return to growth for the air cargo sector after several years in the doldrums. An average of more than 4% growth for the next five years would be a marked improvement on the performance of recent years. Since 2011, for example, growth in freight tonnes has averaged just 0.63% per year,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
To enhance air cargo competitiveness, the industry is aiming to cut average transit times by up to 48 hours by 2020. To achieve this, air freight is modernizing its processes, improving quality and reliability, and widening the range of services offered. A key component of modernized 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%, meaning the 2014 industry target of 22% is within reach.
The Middle East is forecast to be the fastest growing region over the forecast period with a CAGR of 4.7%.
The second-fastest growing market, Africa, will have a CAGR of 4.4%. Asia-Pacific and Latin America, both with a CAGR of 3.8%, will be the joint third-fastest growing markets.
The mature markets of Europe and North America will grow at 3.0% CAGR and 2.8% CAGR, respectively.
By 2018, the ten largest international freight markets will be the United States (10,054,000 tonnes), China (5,639,000), the UAE (4,974,000), Germany (4,763,000), Hong Kong (4,648,000), Republic of Korea (3,487,000), Japan (3,480,000), the United Kingdom (2,808,000), Chinese Taipei (2,350,000) and India (2,223,000).
Iran is expected to be the fastest growing country (of nations with more than 100,000 tonnes of cargo per year) for air freight volumes over the forecasting horizon with a CAGR of 7.0% per annum. However, it is growing from a low base so it will add just 44,000 tonnes of freight by 2018 for a total of 156,000 tonnes.
The largest freight traffic shares in 2013 were Within Asia Pacific (21.6%), Europe-Asia Pacific (12.3%), and North and Mid-Pacific (10.0%).
Looking ahead to 2018, Within Asia Pacific and Europe-Asia are expected to increase their shares very slightly to 21.8% and 12.4% respectively. Middle East-Asia shows the largest gain, up 0.8 percentage points to 6.9%.
Traffic shares for North and Mid Pacific, Within Europe and in the North Atlantic are all expected to decrease by at least 0.5 percentage points in 2018, to 9.5%, 9.0% and 8.9% respectively.

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