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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

DOHA: Speaking ahead of the IATA annual general meeting hosted by Qatar Airways, IATA director-general Tony Tyler said while the industry had seen a 7.5 percent overall rise in passenger traffic for April year-on-year, air cargo growth was less than half that at 3.2 percent.

"We had a post-recession improvement in cargo volumes that quickly subsided. And we are expecting total cargo volumes this year to be about 52 million tonnes- basically unchanged since 2010," he added.

Hamad Airport DohaIATA says that while traffic levels "still point toward growth", the pace is at its weakest for the past five months. Tyler, noting the airline industry is full of optimists, said as export orders still point to expansion, "current sluggishness in the demand drivers is likely temporary."

Asia-Pacific carriers saw air cargo demand grow 5.2 percent year-on-year for April; in Europe, demand fell 0.7 percent compared to the same period in 2013; North American carriers posted growth of 2.6 percent as Latin American airlines saw a 6.5 percent drop in demand while African airlines' traffic grew 2.9 percent.

Predictably, Tyler noted that Middle East airlines are leading the industry with a 17.9 percent overall rise in passenger demand and 8.7 percent growth in cargo - much of it driven by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways; the latter welcomed the 1,000 IATA delegates via its new Hamad International airport (right).

However "running an airline is a tough business," he said. "Our current forecast is for a profit of US$18.7 billion on US$745 billion in global revenue. That's a profit margin of just 2.5 percent - or about US$5.65 per passenger carried." He added the industry had seen a rise in overall margins from 0.9 percent in 2012 to 1.8 percent in 2013.

However according to Dutch analyst and forecaster WorldACD, April air cargo traffic showed a volume growth of 6.3 percent year-on-year, a little below the growth for Q1 (+6.8 percent) and yield was only 0.2 percent lower than in March. Revenues for the month grew almost five percent overall following an average four percent rise in the first four months of 2014.

"Expectations for the full year being upbeat, one wonders where business will increase most. Some say that the newer air cargo markets are in decline after spectacular growth earlier on," says the analyst. To help find out whether this is true, WorldACD arbitrarily drew a circle of 500 km. around a number of top origin cities and compared 2013 with 2012 for each of these catchment areas - taking outgoing and incoming air cargo together.

On this basis, the company says the big centers in Europe and the Middle East/South Asia did better than average in 2013. And "most of them look set for doing the same in 2014. The main centers in the USA do much better in 2014. The same goes for the Pearl River Delta, whilst Tokyo/Osaka is rebounding from the slump ex- Japan. Nairobi also moves again. Lastly, a number of the newer cargo centers continue to climb the ladder: think of Oslo, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, Quito and Karachi."

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