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Rough Waters Push Shippers to Air Freight

Robust Growth in Air Cargo Tied to Ocean Woes

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Continued delays and threats to ocean-going ships have pushed March air freight volume up 11 percent over last year, and the shift shows no signs of easing, according to industry reports.

As passenger airlines continue to increase belly capacity for cargo, disruptions on the water are causing suppliers to pivot to airborne options. Notably, however, short-term three-month deals accounted for 41 percent of new air freight contracts in Q1, up 18 percent over the previous quarter.

The Middle East and Southeast Asia regions spurred most of the growth, as suppliers try to avoid ocean routes around the Red Sea in particular, due to attacks on cargo ships in the region by Houthi rebels in Yemen near the southern entrances to the Red Sea.

Growing ecommerce sales were also a factor, said several industry officials.

Oceanic trade has also faced disruptions in other areas. Pirate attacks off Somalia are increasing after several years of easing, while exports from the Black Sea region have been impacted by the Russia/ Ukraine war. Drought in Central America has reduced the daily capacity of the Panama Canal, while the Port of Baltimore remains unavailable following a ship-bridge collision that felled the bridge into the port’s channel.

Tensions also remain high in the South China Sea, although no direct impacts to translate-oceanic shipping have been reported.

In other ocean-based news, the Walmart and Albertson’s grocery chains have signed on to a new Tuna Transparency Pledge. The agreement, championed by the Nature Conservancy, aims to achieve 100 percent monitoring of the global tuna fishing fleet by 2027, ensuring legal and sustainable practices industry-wide.

Walmart and Sam’s Club adopted a similar commitment within their own tuna supply chains in 2023.

Other signatories to the Nature Conservancy pledge include Thai Union (a global seafood company), and the governments of Belize and Micronesia. The group is seeking additional retailers, supply chain participants and governments to sign the pledge as well.

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