Stagnation Reigns in the Air Freight Market, New ACMG Report Reveals

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Scant signs of market growth before 2014.

These are challenging times for the airlines, express companies and freight forwarders that serve the international air freight market, and it appears those challenging times will continue in 2013, according to a new report published today by ACMG.

After a remarkable recovery in 2010, global demand for air freight has been stagnant for the 30-month period through the fourth quarter of 2012. Full-year 2012 FTK statistics reflect about a 2% decline versus 2011, placing the total only about 1% above the pre-recession peak in 2007. In other words, five years with no net growth.

So how are industry participants coping with this situation? This question and more are addressed in the new study published today by ACMG (Air Cargo Management Group). ACMG’s Air Freight and Express Performance Analysis 2013 provides fresh insight and a detailed assessment of the international air cargo/express industry and the companies that compete in this evolving market.

The report is available for purchase at A teleconference highlighting ACMG research on the topic will take place on March 6th at 1 p.m. EDT. To RSVP for that teleconference, please visit

ACMG released Volume 1 on the international market today. The companion Volume 2 study, which addresses the U.S. Domestic Air Freight Market as part of the Air Freight and Express Performance Analysis service, will be published in July 2013. Together these reports, along with a newly-developed freighter aircraft transactions database, comprise ACMG’s unique in-depth Air Freight Analysis market research service.

First, a positive note: ACMG found that participants in the global international air freight and express industry took in record revenue of $96 billion in 2011. That total includes revenue from airlines, freight forwarders and express companies.

“The total, which was up roughly 8% from the prior peak year in 2010, is a bit of positive news for the industry” said Robert Dahl, Managing Director of ACMG. “However, we note that much of the gain resulted from the artificial stimulation of higher fuel surcharges. Revenue results for 2012 are likely to be down slightly given negative trends in traffic and yield in 2012.”

“ACMG has detected a significant change in attitude regarding the use of freighters,” Dahl said. “Faced with a lack of growth in air cargo demand and the high cost of fuel, many combination carriers are increasing their reliance on belly space, and reducing their use of freighters.”

This situation is putting downward pressure on the demand for freighters. All of the production freighters on offer are widebodies: the A330-200F, 747 8F, 777F and 767-300F types. The combined backlog of orders for these models, at roughly 200, fell in 2012, based on delivery of about 50 units, while new orders were scarce. Also of note, there were some freighter order cancellations and deferrals in 2012, a trend that ACMG expects to continue in 2013.

Freighter demand is also met by the conversion of passenger aircraft to freighter configuration. Yet, the market for P-to-F conversion of large-capacity widebody aircraft remains very weak, and order activity for P-to-F conversion of medium widebodies has also not met expectations. Conversely, the market for P-to-F conversion of narrowbody aircraft remains quite strong.

These observations, and others discussed below, come from the newly-released Volume 1 of ACMG’s Air Freight and Express Performance Analysis 2013. ACMG’s International report provides the only comprehensive quantitative and qualitative independent analysis of the global air freight and express industry, including:

  •     Trends in international air freight services
  •     Statistical analysis of air freight and express package traffic volumes
  •     Strategic reviews of the major express companies, freight forwarders, all-cargo and     combination passenger/cargo airlines
  •     Up-to-date discussion of freighter aircraft usage and fleet trends
  •     Analysis of ongoing air freight developments in China, India, and the Middle East
  •     Commentary on the impact of airline alliances and “open skies” aviation pacts.

ACMG found once again this year that most of the top-ranked airlines for international cargo are combination carriers. The only integrated express companies ranking in the top-25 group for FTKs are FedEx (ranked 6th) and UPS (ranked 9th). Three other all-cargo carriers appear on the list: #11 Cargolux, #17 Volga-Dnepr/AirBridge, and #22 Nippon Cargo.

The average daily shipment volume for international express (time-definite) has grown about 8.2% per year since 1992. However, ACMG’s analysis indicates daily volumes grew just 3.2% in 2012 to reach 2.410 million shipments per day. This increase follows a similar 4.0% gain in 2011.

While there have been some signs recently of a return to growth in air freight demand, those hoping for a major air freight rebound in 2013 are likely to be disappointed.

“Over the long term, ACMG foresees air freight demand increasing in-line with expanding world trade; however, the average growth for air freight is expected to be in the range of 3% -to-5% per year, an improvement over recent performance, but well below the historic rate,” said Dahl. “Unfortunately, no one – ACMG included – is predicting a near-term return to steady growth of 6% per year, a rate which was commonplace before 2000.”


Founded in 1978, ACMG is a specialized aviation consulting firm, which focuses on freighter aircraft and all aspects of the worldwide air freight and express industry. ACMG is owned by New York-based Royal Media Group, a leading information services media company.

Robert Dahl, an aviation analyst for more than 20 years, is available to provide expert commentary on the results of this report and on the air cargo industry, in general. Mr. Dahl can be reached at or 1-206-971-2933.

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