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  April 22nd, 2024 | Written by

Air Cargo Boom: Global Trade Reshaped by E-commerce Surge and Shipping Disruptions

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The world of global trade is witnessing a seismic shift, propelled by a surge in e-commerce exports from China and disruptions in Red Sea shipping routes. These developments have led to a resurgent demand for air cargo, defying expectations during what is typically a slower period for shipping.

E-commerce Dominance and Capacity Constraints

Chinese e-commerce giants like Shein, Temu, and Alibaba are driving a significant portion of the airfreight demand, particularly in the realm of fast fashion and online marketplaces. This surge in demand has outpaced the growth in airfreight capacity, leading to fierce competition for available space on outbound flights from China and Hong Kong to key destinations like the United States and Europe.

As a result, logistics providers are grappling with capacity constraints, with some warning of sold-out commitments for the remainder of the year. This scarcity of space is making it increasingly challenging for freight forwarders to secure consistent capacity for their shipments, posing logistical challenges in an already complex global trade landscape.

Red Sea Shipping Disruptions

The quasi-blockade of Red Sea shipping routes due to missile and drone attacks on commercial vessels by Houthi rebels has further exacerbated supply chain disruptions. Vessel operators have been forced to bypass the Red Sea, leading to extended transit times and a decline in schedule reliability. Apparel companies in regions like Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka are opting for air transport to avoid missing crucial fashion seasons in Western markets.

While demand for airfreight has been robust, signs of a slowdown are emerging as production and distribution catch up following the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday. Additionally, ocean carriers have adjusted their vessel networks to circumvent the Red Sea, stabilizing transit times and reducing the urgency for fast transport.

E-commerce Boom and Capacity Crunch

The exponential growth of e-commerce, particularly in direct-to-consumer shipping from China, has reshaped the air cargo landscape. Traditionally, most international online purchases were fulfilled from U.S. warehouses, but the rise of e-commerce exports from China has led to a surge in demand for airfreight capacity. This trend has led to intense competition for available space, with freight forwarders vying for block space agreements to secure capacity for their shipments.

Despite the tightening market conditions, shippers are showing a preference for short-term capacity purchases, anticipating a potential easing of disruptions in Red Sea shipping routes and an influx of passenger belly capacity during the summer travel season. However, uncertainties persist, with geopolitical tensions in the Middle East posing a potential threat to shipping lanes and air diversions.

Outlook for Air Cargo

Despite the challenges and uncertainties, air cargo providers remain optimistic about the outlook for the industry. Global economic indicators, including increased shipments of smartphones and growth in manufacturing activity, point towards sustained demand for airfreight in the coming months. While challenges persist, the resilience of the air cargo sector and its ability to adapt to changing market dynamics bode well for its future growth and stability.


The convergence of factors such as the e-commerce boom, disruptions in shipping routes, and geopolitical tensions has reshaped the global trade landscape and fueled a surge in air cargo demand. As the industry navigates these challenges, adaptation, innovation, and collaboration will be key to ensuring the continued growth and resilience of air cargo in an increasingly interconnected world.