IATA records modest growth in April 2013
Air Freight rates in April showed modest growth of 1.4 percent in comparison to April 2012, according to IATA. This small increase helped to offset the 2.6 percent decline in March compared to the same period in 2012, yet continues an 18-month trend of no growth in the cargo markets.
“We saw a brief rally in cargo markets at the end of 2012. But that has clearly stalled. Fortunately, the small improvement in April means that economic conditions have not deteriorated to the point of starting a market contraction. And if we look to emerging markets--particularly Latin America and the Middle East—we do see some encouraging signs of growth,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
Growth in emerging markets was strong enough to counterbalance weaknesses in the major aviation regions, but overall growth remains feeble.
Asia-Pacific carriers saw a 0.4 percent fall in freight compared to April 2012. Although Chinese economic growth is still robust, overall business confidence softened in April, indicating a sluggish manufacturing sector. The outlook for Japan, by contrast, is more optimistic. Export growth drove Japanese business confidence to a 13-month high in April, but the impact hasn’t yet affected freight growth.
North American airlines saw air freight volumes fall 0.1 percent in April compared to the previous year. Although this is a contraction, it is an improvement on the 6.5 percent fall in March, suggesting that markets have broadly stabilized.
European carriers saw an increase in air freight demand of just 0.9 percent. Regional business confidence levels trail those in both the US and emerging markets. Nevertheless, European air freight volumes are holding up better than other regions when compared to the previous year.
Middle East airlines saw their freight business expand at a healthy 8.6 percent compared to April 2012. While this is a slowdown from the year-to-date growth rate of 11.2 percent, it was still the second highest of any region and the opening of new routes to developing economies will drive growth for the foreseeable future.
Latin American airlines experienced the highest growth in demand with a 12.2 percent expansion compared to the year-ago levels. This is more than three times the year-to-date growth, and is the result of strong domestic demand as well as a sustained growth in exports of perishable goods.
African airlines saw air freight demand grow by 1.4 percent compared to April 2012, in line with the global result. During previous months, however, African airlines’ air freight demand has performed more strongly than the global market, reflecting robust expansion in regional trade volumes compared to the world trend.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector