Global air freight traffic increased 6.9% year-over year in January, down from December 2016’s 10% growth, but more than doubling the average annual growth rate of 3% over the past five years, according to IATA’s January Air Freight Market analysis.

Overall capacity grew 3.5% compared to January 2016; the total market freight load factor was 42.1%, up 0.8 point from a year ago.

Air cargo traffic has been gaining momentum since the middle of 2016, coinciding with a steady rise in new export orders, IATA senior economist David Oxley said. According to the global purchasing managers’ index (PMI), in February 2017 new export orders reached their highest level since March 2011, largely driven by China. Export orders in Japan and Germany are also nearing three-year highs, Oxley said. An increase in shipments of semi-conductor material used in consumer electronics during 4Q 2016 is also indicative of recent trade movement trends.

“The pickup in populist and protectionist political rhetoric presents an ongoing risk for global trade and air cargo in the years ahead, and the global trade backdrop is much weaker than it used to be,” Oxley said. “However, fast-growing areas such as pharmaceuticals and cross-border e-commerce offer opportunities for air freight this year and beyond.”

“It’s been a good start to the year for air cargo,” IATA DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said. “The onus is now on the industry to seize the opportunity to accelerate the modernization of processes to make air cargo an even more compelling option for shippers.”

Air freight movement in the Asia-Pacific region, with a 37.5% share of the world total market, posted 6% YOY growth in January; capacity in the region grew 6.6%, and the region’s freight load factor for the month was 49.4%, down 0.4 point year-over-year (YOY).

Carriers in Europe, with a 23.5% share of the world’s air freight market, reported an 8.7% YOY increase in January; capacity was up just 3.3%, and the region’s freight load factor was 44%, up 2.4 points YOY. Increased export orders in Germany, combined with ongoing weakness in the Euro, contributed to the month’s performance.

Air freight traffic in North America, with 20.7% of the world market share, was up 6.1% in January, with 0.6% capacity growth, producing a freight load factor of 35.3% for the month, up 0.7 point from last year. But North American international freight volumes were up 8.7% in January, the fastest pace since the US seaports disruption boosted demand in February 2015. “Further strengthening in the US dollar over recent months should help to support inbound air freight during 2017,” Oxley said, “although it is likely to keep outbound flows under pressure.”

Middle East carriers’ air freight traffic—with a 13.9% total market share—was up 8.4% YOY for the month, with capacity in the region growing 3.3%, for a freight load factor of 42%, up 2.8 points YOY.

Air freight traffic among Latin American carriers decline 4.1% in January; capacity in the region was down 1.4%; freight load factors in the region were 28.5%, down 4.4 points YOY.

Air freight traffic in Africa increased 24.3% YOY in January, with capacity rising 6.1%, resulting in a 23.3$ freight load factor for the region, up 0.7 point over January 2016. International air freight traffic among African carriers was up 25% in January, “helped by very strong growth on the trade lane to and from Asia,” Oxley said.

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@penton.com