IATA ECONOMIC BRIEFING
AIR FREIGHT TIMELY INDICATOR OF ECONOMIC TURNING POINT
Ê Air freight has proved to be a very timely indicator of overall world trade volumes. IATA releases data on a
particular month’s international air freight movements towards the end of the following month, which is around four
weeks in advance of the most timely release of world trade data, by the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Analysis
(CPB). Given the importance of the world trade contraction in driving the recession, movements in air freight are
likely to be a very helpful guide to any turning points in the global economy. Indeed, decision-makers such as the
Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, are already using this data as the most timely indicator available
on world trade developments.
Ê Air freight is a little more than a coincident indicator of world trade. Turning points in world trade are often
signalled 4-5 months ahead by air freight, for the reasons discussed below. In this most recent downturn air freight
growth turned negative in June and started to fall sharply in September. Growth in overall world trade volumes
turned negative in November and then fell very sharply in December.
World trade and air freight growth
% year-on-yearInternational air freight
Source: IATA, Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB)
Ê Before discussing developments in the most recent months – and a possible floor to the decline in world trade -
we examine first the relationship between the shipment of goods by air and overall world trade, and then look at
some of the key economic drivers behind recent developments.
Ê The chart below shows the ratio of IATA’s measure of international air freight volumes, freight tonne kilometers
flown, and the CPB’s measure of world trade in goods measured in constant or inf