Two principal causes are responsible for the weak air cargo growth between 2011 and 2013: an underperforming world economy and lackluster growth in trade, particularly trade in the commodities that are traditionally carried as air cargo.
World economic activity, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), grew only 2.1% per year between 2008 and 2013. Even since rebounding in 2010 from the global economic slowdown of 2008 and 2009, world economic growth has lagged behind its historical trend of 3.2% annual growth. Weakness in consumer demand and in business investment in Europe, North America, and Japan accounts for much of the slowdown. Growth in China, India, Brazil, and other developing economies has also slowed to varying degrees.
World economic activity began to pick up in late 2013, particularly in the United States and China, and continued to build momentum during 2014. World GDP growth is forecast to accelerate to the long-term average rate of 3.2% annual growth in 2015 and then to exceed the long-term average for several years before settling down to the historic trend for the remainder of the forecast period.
World merchandise trade, a component of world GDP, is an important measure of economic performance and a significant indicator of long-term air cargo traffic trends. This component tends to exaggerate changes in the broader GDP. World merchandise trade mirrors the prolonged postrecession stagnation of world air cargo traffic as well as its recent strengthening. When economic recovery became discernible in the second half of 2013, trade volumes began to accelerate, particularly in Asia. After faltering during the first quarter of 2014, trade growth picked up again during the second quarter. The forecast that world merchandise trade growth will hover around historic rates supports the long-term outlook for continued world air cargo traffic growth.
World air cargo traffic began to grow again during the second quarter of 2013. By July 2014, traffic had grown 4.4% compared with the first seven months of 2013, which is generally in line with the trends of world economic and trade activity. Persistence of this trend through the end of 2014 would mark the first full year since 2010 in which air cargo traffic has grown more than 1%.