The Southeast Asia and China export markets are especially hot and could extend into December. Spot rates out of China to North America started climbing again early this month as air capacity tightened. Trans-Pacific eastbound rates from Asia are even stronger. The spread between the two markets has doubled in the past couple of weeks, but is expected to quickly narrow as airfreight volumes from China grow.
Both markets are characterized by extremely high demand and the lack of space in widebody passenger jets, most of which are grounded because the coronavirus has scared people from flying. Trade is strong for several reasons, including companies rebuilding inventory depleted during earlier COVID shutdowns, traditional retail stockpiling for the holidays, huge growth in e-commerce orders and shippers moving out orders ahead of factory shutdowns for the Golden Week holiday in China.
The airfreight sector is also capturing some shipments from the ocean mode, where vessels are full, containers are in short supply and rates hit new records.
All signs point to continued growth in airfreight volumes for the remainder of the year. Additionally, air cargo has increased its share of world trade in the past couple of months. In normal times, air cargo moves about a third of international trade by value — $6 trillion to $7 trillion — even though it represents about 1% of total volumes.