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AMSTERDAM: A survey by Seabury Group and IATA says a shift to ocean freight by shippers has cost the airport-to-airport cargo sector almost two percentage points of annual growth since 2000.

Shippers and forwarders expect this trend to continue in the next few years with the automotive and electronics sectors being the most at risk of migration.

CargoluxSeabury says the air cargo industry's share of total global containerised or unitised cargo declined from 3.1 percent in 2000 to 1.7 percent last year due to modal shift and what it describes as "commodity mix" factors and "value effects".

Gert-Jan Jansen, head of Seabury Cargo Advisory commented: "Mode shift has eroded a significant portion of air freight growth and is expected to continue to do so, albeit at a moderate rate. Annual global air freight volumes would be 15.2 million tonnes higher if airfreight had retained its 3.1 percent market share, and over the past 13 years, 5.4 million tonnes have shifted from air to ocean – an average annual loss of more than 400,000 tonnes per year. Without this modal shift, the compound annual growth rate for air freight could have reached 4.5 percent from 2000 to 2013, instead of the 2.6 percent actually achieved."

While raw materials and perishable traffic have been the most affected, fashion, high-tech and machinery parts have also switched from air to ocean freight. Trade lanes from Asia have been hit the hardest, the survey noted.

Shippers said the main factors driving the shift to seafreight included transportation costs, increased reliability and the environment. Respondents said the air cargo industry could minimise or reverse this trend by offering cheaper rates, better products and closer relationships with shippers. The most popular suggestions from freight forwarders were increasing Sustainability through fuel efficiency, improving operational reliability and the adoption of e-trading.

Jansen said the airfreight sector needs to find an appropriate response if it wishes to reverse its market share losses: "While shippers would like to focus attention on air freight rates, there are other aspects at play. Forwarders require improvements in terms of fuel efficiency, reliability and use of e-communication, while respondents also highlighted the importance of reduced door-to-door transit times."

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