While an apparent easing in global trade tensions is good news for the global air cargo industry, uncertainty and restrictions due to the coronavirus is expected to eventually not only to negatively impact economic growth, but also create another challenging year for the air cargo industry.
This is according to Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
He said trade tensions were at the root of the worst year for global air cargo since the end of the global financial Crisis in 2009.
IATA's latest data shows that global air freight demand fell by 3.3% in 2019 compared to 2018 - the first decline in freight volumes since 2012. At the same time, capacity rose by 2.1%. during the year.
In December 2019 global cargo volumes contracted 2.7% year-on-year while capacity rose 2.8%. African carriers, however, saw freight demand increase by 10.3% in December 2019, compared to the same month in 2018.
According to IATA, this was reflected in a strong 2019 full-year performance, which saw Africa's freight volumes expand 7.4%.
In Africa freight capacity grew by 10% in December and for 2019 in total, increased by 13.3%. Over the year, air cargo volumes have been supported by strong capacity growth and investment linkages with Asia, IATA found.
On the other hand, global air cargo's performance in 2019 was dampened by weak growth in global trade of just 0.9%. The sector's underperformance was also due, in particular, to slowing GDP growth in manufacturing-intensive economies.
"Softer business and consumer confidence, along with falling export orders, also contributed to air freight struggles," IATA said in a statement.
At the same time, the industry body sees signs that confidence and orders could pick up in 2020. It is, however, too early to say what long-term effects will be seen from the impact of restrictions associated with combatting the coronavirus outbreak.
In December IATA reported that an estimated 360 000 days per year are wasted annually on redundant cargo handling audits. This has led the industry body to launch a new programme to raise global standards in cargo handling operations. The Smart Facility Operational Capacity (SFOC) programme aims to reduce audit complexity and duplication for cargo handling facilities.
* Compiled by Carin Smith