Updated with closing share price.SEATTLE ( TheStreet) -- Boeing ( BA) shares were higher Wednesday after the company said it sees its air cargo shipments business returning and Asian/Pacific traffic growth continuing. Shares closed Wednesday at $50.53, up $1.03 or 2.08%. Year to date, Boeing shares are up about 18%. In air cargo, "things are improving and we're hopeful, but there's still a way to go yet," said Jim Edgar, Boeing's regional director for cargo marketing, at the Asian Aerospace Expo in Hong Kong, according to Reuters. Edgar said cargo growth typically leads economic and passenger growth by three to six months, Reuters reported. "This year, we're anticipating a deeper decline and it'll be the first time in history that we'll have two years of decline back to back," he said, but "the decline is slowing." In a recent report, the International Air Transport Association said that both air freight and passenger numbers are starting to rise off their lows, with both up more than 3% in July from the previous month. "Freight is being driven by the inventory cycle," IATA said. Freight capacity in July was down 8.1% from a year earlier. Freight capacity utilization in July was 47.6%, up from 40% in January, but still several points lower than a year ago. Cargo has been a sore spot for many carriers, especially those with a strong Asian presence. On a July earnings call, United ( UAUA) CFO Kathryn Mikells said second-quarter cargo revenue declined 49%, reflecting reduced freight and mail volumes, "with the Japan market being among the hardest hit." Lower fuel surcharges were also a factor, she said.
Meanwhile, Boeing continues to see strong growth in the Asia Pacific region, forecast to support demand for 8,960 new commercial jets worth $1.1 trillion over the next 20 years. "Twenty years from now more than 40 percent of the world's airline traffic will begin, end or take place within the Asia Pacific region," said Randy Tinseth, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president for marketing, in a prepared statement. "That's a big leap for a region that was not even mentioned in our earliest Boeing market forecasts back in the 1950s." In less than 10 years, the region will be the largest air travel market in the world, Boeing said. "This is clearly a difficult time in the aviation market, and today's challenges are reflected in the Boeing forecast, but we do expect the growing Asia markets to lead the industry into recovery," Tinseth noted. Thursday evening, investors will learn the fate of an effort to decertify the International Association of Machinists at a Charleston, S.C., plant which Boeing recently acquired from Vought. The plant is viewed as a potential site for creation of a second production line for the Boeing 787. -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. .