Global air freight traffic increased an overall 3.8% in 2016, rebounding in the second half and nearly doubling the industry’s average growth rate of 2% over the last five years, according to IATA’s latest Air Freight Market Analysis.

Overall global air freight capacity for the full year was up 5.3%; the total market’s freight load factor in 2016 was 43%, down 0.6 point from 2015.

A strong peak season, typified by December’s 9.8% total market traffic growth, plus increasing silicon materials shipments and a surge in new export orders, contributed to the second-half boost to the air cargo sector, IATA said.

All regions showed an increase in freight traffic demand in 2016, except for Latin America.


European carriers had the biggest increase in cargo traffic in 2016, up 7.6%, and accounted for nearly half of the total global annual increase in freight demand. Europe’s growth was abetted by a sustained rise in export orders in Germany as well as ongoing weakness in the euro. Air freight capacity among European carriers increased 6.7% in 2016; the freight load factor (FLF) for the region was 44.5%, up 0.4 point from 2015. European carriers had a 23.5% share of the world’s total air freight market in 2016.

Middle East

Air freight traffic among Middle Eastern carriers slowed in 2016 to 6.9% growth for the full year, the region’s slowest growth pace since 2009. Capacity for the year increased 8.4%; the FLF for the region was 42.8%, down 0.6 point from 2015. IATA attributed the region’s slowdown to weakening freight volumes between the Middle East and Asia, and the Middle East and Europe. The region carried 13.9% of the world’s total air freight in 2016.


Asia-Pacific carriers, with the world’s largest share of air freight traffic (37.5%), saw traffic increase 2.1% in 2016. Capacity in the region was up 3.6% and the overall Asia-Pacific FLF was 52.8%— the highest in the world—down 0.8 point from 2015. December 2016 air cargo traffic in the Asia-Pacific region was up 9.8% year-over-year. According to IATA senior economist David Oxley, business surveys in much of the Asia region point to healthy order books for the region’s exporters. New export orders in Japan rose to a 19-month high in January 2017, Oxley said, with Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam also showing significant export order increases.

North America

Air freight traffic among North American carriers grew 2% in 2016, with capacity rising 3.4% for the full year. The region’s FLF for the year was 34.3%, down 0.5 point from 2015. North American carriers move a 20.7% share of the world’s air freight traffic. International air freight traffic among North American carriers increased 1.4% for the year, while international air freight capacity was up 1.2%. “Freight volumes on the key routes to and from Asia look to have fallen by around 2% in annual terms in 2016,” Oxley said. But international freight traffic improved in the peak season months of the year, rising 6.2% in November and 6.3% in December. “The further strengthening in the US dollar over recent months should help to support inbound air freight during 2017,” Oxley said. “But the flip-side is that it will continue to keep outbound flows under pressure.”


Air freight traffic among African carriers was up 3.1% in 2016 as air freight capacity in the region surged 25.5%, driven by rapid long-haul expansion, mostly by Ethiopian Airlines, and capacity increases among North African carriers, Oxley said. The year’s FLF for the region was 22.2%, down 4.8 points form 2015. The region’s airlines carry a 1.6 share of the world’s air freight traffic.

Latin America

Latin American carriers finished 2016 showing a 4.2% decrease in air freight traffic, compounding a 4.5% drop in 2015. However, “the seasonally adjusted trend in traffic [in Latin America] has rebounded since early 2016 and levels are now back broadly in line with where they started [2016],” Oxley said. Ongoing economic challenges of the region, particularly in Brazil, continue to plague the Latin America’s air freight sector. Capacity in the region declined 2% in 2016; the region’s FLF was 33.3%, down 0.8 point from 2015. The region carried a 2.8% share of the world’s air cargo traffic in 2016.

“In terms of demand, 2016 was a good year for air cargo [and it] was boosted by [a] solid year-end performance,” IATA DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said. “But there are headwinds. The most significant is stagnant world trade, which also faces the risk of protectionist measures. Governments must not forget that trade is a powerful tool for growth and prosperity.”

Mark Nensel