Chaotic sea freight markets are driving delayed distressed planned ocean cargo over to faster air freight, creating an artificial early peak season, in which massive global demand meeting limited capacity, means that only the highest paying cargo will make it out of Asia on a flight, regardless of destination. ‘Pay to play’ seems to be the driver behind the current market dynamics.
The highest bidders see their shipments loaded to the aircraft, mirroring the current commoditisation of sea freight, as congestion and equipment imbalances have created a massive shift by shippers to secure any available capacity, in a peak season without end, as record pricing levels and demand significantly outpaces available ocean freight integrity within a normal environment.
Simply. The price shippers are willing to pay will determine whether their cargo is loaded onto an aircraft. If you pay the right price, there are aircraft available to be activated and driven by the demand and economic viability.
Pricing strength continues to be seen out of China and Hong Kong to the US and Europe, and from Europe to the US, with all three trade lanes seeing price increases in May over April, although prices peaked in early May and have fallen away in recent weeks. But this is expected to be short term with a peak season and huge spike yet to come in the second half of the year.
Even so, the air freight market continues to be strong from Asia and globally in general, and this is likely to continue for some time as demand in every market continues to outstrip supply as eCommerce traffic increases and economic activity strengthens with the opening up of regional economies as lockdowns continue to lift through the vaccine roll-outs worldwide.
Comparing air freight rates this year with those of pre-pandemic 2019 gives a clear indication of the pricing strength of the market, with rates on Shanghai-North Europe routes up 193% in 2019. This is during the traditional slack period, where airlines usually scramble for support to fill their scheduled aircraft and incentivise shippers with low-cost options.
Keeping rates elevated is sky-high demand for air freight space and tightly constrained capacity, with nearly all long-haul below deck cargo space unavailable in the bellies of grounded passenger planes that simply cannot operate as their main revenue stream is subdued or non-existent.
Continued port congestion that has further escalated at Yantian International Container Terminals in the port of Shenzhen in late May after a COVID-19 outbreak hit an all-time high of 20 days delay last week, and the congestion has spread to ports through Southern China, pushing more containerised cargo over to air freight or other faster modes of transport including rail and sea/air routes. These alternatives are also now becoming in high demand with widespread challenges in the rail sector into Europe.
Our advice for shippers with export cargo from China is to share their requirements at the earliest possible opportunity, so we can book ocean shipments as soon as possible and to consider air cargo as a fall-back solution. Most ocean freight carriers on the westbound trade to Europe are already booked through the whole of July into August, regardless of the premium costs.
The two main air freight peak season months from China would typically be October and November, but with low inventory levels and so many distressed orders driving the early peak, we anticipate a busy second half of 2021, with high volumes through the fourth quarter. That is without the relentless demand for consumer goods which will only increase as the year progresses and Christmas comes into the logistics equation.
We work closely with leading airlines, cargo carriers and key hub partners to offer the widest range of time-sensitive solutions, routes and transit times at the most competitive rates available in the current market.
We are looking at adding significant additional capacity with dedicated charter operations in Q3 and Q4 to support our customers during what is anticipated to be a very demanding air freight market.
We welcome expressions of interest and will share further information as we develop our plans to deal with ‘peak season’ demand.
If you have urgent or time-sensitive consignments and would like to explore options, transits and costs, please contact Elliot Carlile or Grant Liddell for all options available to ensure that deadlines are always met.