News# 53 - Exporters nervous as air cargo congestion builds in Delhi and Mumbai


Airlines are dealing with considerable cargo backlogs across major international airports in India as volumes spike, according to industry updates.

“The effect has been most [noticeable] at Delhi and Mumbai airports,” a source at Air India told The Loadstar.

The source also noted that ocean trade diversions, in the wake of lingering Red Sea-linked pain points along with the traditional peak season for air cargo during March and April, had caused the acute capacity overhang.

India’s air exports have seen strong growth, a cumulative expansion from April through February, the first 11 months of fiscal year 2023-24, some 21% year on year, according to data from industry stakeholders.

At the same time, volumes out of Delhi Air Cargo rose by around 43% last month, driven chiefly by ready-made garment (RMG) volumes, sources confirmed. Demand has been especially high on connections to Europe, with weekend flights filling available capacity and carriers have often had to leave scheduled packages behind in recent weeks.

As a result, carriers have been able to push rates significantly higher to Europe and the US, sources said.

“Space is congested in all Indian origins and transhipment points as well,” Chennai-based forwarder Ligi Logistics said in a market analysis. The forwarder estimated average transit times for the US at nine days and no fewer than five to six days for the EU because of heavy backlogs.

Another forwarder noted that rates to Europe and the US were now back on par, compared with a price differential of 20% to 30%  seen earlier. But an airline executive said: “After a streak of upward swings, rates have now somewhat stabilised.”

Vineet Malhotra, co-founder and director at Mumbai-based Kale Logistics Solutions, agreed and told The Loadstar: “That’s perhaps a sign that more shippers are turning to air cargo to beat ocean transport problems.

“This modal shift underscores the importance of predictive capabilities within cargo community systems to anticipate delays, demand shifts and vulnerable tradelanes, enabling better industry preparedness,” he added.

One glaring factor driving congestion and air cargo rates at Delhi is the growing RMG flow from Bangladesh for transhipment. Indian apparel exporters are pressing the government to reconsider the cross-border logistics arrangement in the interest of domestic trade.

“Almost 20-30 loaded trucks come to Delhi daily, which slows down smooth cargo flow, and this glut is being taken undue advantage of by the airlines,” said Sudhir Sekhri, president of the Apparel Export Promotion Council. “This is resulting in exports of Indian apparel through Delhi becoming uncompetitive.”

Aided by typical fiscal year-end cargo activity, overall Indian exports grew 12% year on year last month, an 11-month high, arguably bucking Red Sea-linked supply chain headwinds.

“Exporters have consistently been performing, driving the growth of exports and adding to the growth momentum of the economy,” said the Federation of Indian Export Organisations.

And that air cargo upswing is not limited to India: Dubai seems to be the other major sourcing bet for European importers, driving noticeable ocean-to-air freight conversions there. And South Africa is also reporting a surge in air cargo volumes – up 35% this week, according to a forwarder association.


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