With ocean freight demand filling vessels through the summer, the largest importers out of Asia have been diverting increasing volumes to air, but that option is facing space constraints as the airlines struggle to handle increasing demand.

The region’s largest forwarders and our colleagues on the ground agree that an early peak season is coming and that sharp air freight rate increases will follow.

One analyst quoted by news portal JOC stated. “We expect the market to heat up in the first two weeks of September and we see an early peak in the second part of the month. Rates will inevitably move higher, how much cannot be predicted at this point, but I would not be surprised to see a very strong peak with rates we have not seen for quite some time.”

Everyone agrees that the most prudent option for shippers is to book their cargo early or face increasing difficulties getting freight out of China

Everyone agrees that the most prudent option for shippers is to book their cargo early or face increasing difficulties getting freight out of China.

The most challenging time period for air freight is Oct. 16 to Dec. 15, with delays of up to a week and tight space and while space can be found, the prices could be high.

Shippers of higher value goods from China to Europe have been using the overland rail route through Central Asia and while this route has been rapidly growing in popularity into Northern Europe, it is still not truly viable for UK importers.

Over the summer, delays of up to a week were reported at the European end of the China-Europe rail network, as fast-growing container volumes driven by intense interest from shippers, started overwhelming terminal capacity. The delays are adding up to six days to the overland transit, which is extended further into the UK and will increase further as the peak season bites.

For UK importers if sea freight transit times are not working, the only viable alternative is air freight. The better news for shippers is that, subject to their deadlines, there are many air solutions available, with varying transit times and cost options.