Red Sea modal shifts, e-commerce push March air volumes up 11% YoY

Source: Supply Chain Dive
Date: 10th April 2024

Shippers are negotiating shorter-term contracts to keep their options open amid disruptions and an incoming summer capacity boost.

  • Ongoing Red Sea conflicts and e-commerce volumes pushed March air cargo demand up 11% year over year for the third consecutive month.
  • Air freight growth was primarily driven by an uptick in volumes from the Middle East and South Asia as shippers shifted from ocean to air to avoid Red Sea delays and maintain resilience.
  • The question is should we be surprised by it, or should we get used to it? Although the market didn’t benefit immediately, the Red Sea disruption was a factor in these latest figures.

Dive Insight:
March data shows that a bigger share of spot market volumes was purchased to stay flexible and “keep their options open” pending the cooling of disruptions on the Red Sea and growing summer belly capacity.

In turn, more shippers opted to move away from longer-term global air cargo contracts in favor of short-term capacity commitments. In Q1, three-month contracts accounted for 41% of all newly negotiated contracts, up 18% percentage points from the previous quarter.

The air cargo market has clearly enjoyed a stronger-than-anticipated start to the year, but there’s a different quarter coming along and more capacity coming in, so we do expect an overall downward pressure on load factor and rates, aside from selected corridors where the continuing rise of e-commerce and the residue of the Red Sea uncertainty will continue to boost rate levels.

Despite Q1 featuring historically weaker months, demand outpaced growth in available capacity.

While this latest monthly data should be balanced against the lower base recorded in the corresponding month of 2023 when we saw weakened global manufacturing activities, Q1 2024 has still seen a surprisingly busy airfreight market.


  • +11%
    YoY percentage increase in global air cargo demand
  • $2.43
    The average spot rate per kilogram in March, up 7% from the month prior
  • -2%
    The decrease in MoM spot rates from China to the U.S., which stood at $4.06 per kilogram. YoY, rates were up 15% YoY partly due to growing e-commerce demand
  • +3%
    The increase in MoM spot rates from Europe to the U.S. to $2.12 per kilogram. The corridor’s slight increase is attributed to less impact from the Red Sea conflict.
  • +35%
    The increase in MoM spot rates from South Asia and the Middle East to the U.S., reported at $4.03 per kilogram.
  • 61%
    The global dynamic load factor, which measures volume and the weight of cargo flown, as well as available capacity

The air cargo market has been stronger than anticipated for six consecutive months.

When is it going to slow down? Only time will tell but, right now, airfreight demand is surprisingly resilient.

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