© Andreykom freighter_77544986
© Andreykom

A 27% relative discrepancy in the way aircraft load factors are calculated is a “terrible miss” for the industry, it was claimed today.

Last year’s Project Selfie, which re-examined the way load factors are calculated, revealed that, in some cases, recording utilisation by weight alone significantly mis-represents the air cargo industry.

“The gap between the two calculations is very large,” said Niall van de Wouw, architect of Project Selfie.

“Imagine if a factory had such different utilisation rates – it would make or break a company. Or if the passenger business was 27% out on its load factors. It’s a significant order of magnitude.”

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The average volume load factor of 66% was 10 percentage points higher than the weight load factor of 56%. Applying the dynamic load factor metric put the utilisation rate even higher, at 71%, giving a relative difference of 27% between weight and dynamic.

In November, when capacity was all but unavailable and rates sky high, the official figures calculated load factors at just 49%.

“It is a miscommunication to the outside world,” said Mr van de Wouw. “And if you publish just one sentence saying 49%, but without context on the dynamics of the industry, why publish it at all?

“Why lead people to believe planes are only half-full when rates are sky-rocketing?”

Mr van de Wouw admitted there were some surprises when he recalculated load factors based on statistics from airlines representing nearly 25% of the global market.

“I was not surprised by the overall magnitude of the numbers, but what did surprise me was the regional differences,” he said.

“There was a big difference between the weight load factor and the dynamic on Asia outbound and the Atlantic, with the two metrics varying between 6% and 20%.

“The theory behind the variety is that there is so much more pressure on capacity for Asia outbound. The high rates out of Asia and the nature of the goods incentivises airlines and allows them to build up pallets to the maximum.

“But across the Atlantic, where there is less pressure and rates are lower, there are fewer incentives to build up pallets so densely.”

Another surprise – along with the fact that as many as 19 major airlines participated in just an eight-week deadline – was that no two airlines calculated load factors internally in the same way.

“There is no standard,” said Mr van de Wouw. “It was pretty amazing to get so many carriers, and although different airlines had different reasons for participating, it is reflective of the fact that they know the weight measurement is not representative.”

IATA, which currently reports cargo load factors based on “long-standing industry measurement tools and submissions made by members airlines”, said it was re-examining the issue.

“As the industry has evolved, and commodities transported have evolved, IATA is keen to look at this area of industry analysis in keeping with our view that all aspects of the industry should be continually reviewed,” said cargo chief Glyn Hughes.

“We therefore will be inviting a number of industry experts who have expressed a view in this area to join us in a think-tank to review and determine if we can collectively identify something more relevant for today.”

Mr van we Wouw welcomed the news.

“I’d be happy to have a conversation with IATA if it is interested, to see if the lessons we learned can be applied to a broader initiative.”

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