Air cargo demand recovers to pre-Covid levels, latest IATA data reveals

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released January 2021 data for global air cargo markets showing that air cargo demand returned to pre-Covid levels (January 2019) for the first time since the onset of the crisis. January demand also showed strong month-to-month growth over December 2020 levels.

Gustavo Mundel is Perishable Movements Limited air cargo freight manager;

“Demand for air freight is returning to pre-Covid market levels, we are also seeing a spike in  demand for charter, ACMI and BSA programs, which is  the natural response from the air cargo market when facing belly capacity shortage.”

Perishable Movements Limited Air Freight Charter Manager

“We won’t see a shift in balance until there is more clarity in vaccine rollout programmes for those dependent on air freight logistics, coupled with  passenger aircraft flights coming back in higher numbers. We are witnessing the ever-more importance of airfreight in keeping supply chains going with vital and lifesaving goods which are essential for paving the way for a new normality to take place”.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was up 1.1 per cent compared to January 2019 and +3 per cent compared to December 2020. All regions saw month-on-month improvement in air cargo demand, and North America and Africa were the strongest performers.

The recovery in global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), was reversed owing to new capacity cuts on the passenger side. Capacity shrank 19.5 per cent compared to January 2019 and fell 5 per cent compared to December 2020, the first monthly decline since April 2020.

The operating backdrop remains supportive for air cargo volumes, IATA said. Conditions in the manufacturing sector remain robust despite new Covid-19 outbreaks that dragged down passenger demand. The global manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was at 53.5 in January. Results above 50 indicate manufacturing growth versus the prior month.

The new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI – a leading indicator of air cargo demand– continued to point to further CTK improvement. However, the performance of the metric was less robust compared with Q42020 as Covid-19 resurgence negatively impacted export business in emerging markets. Should this continue or expand to other markers, it could weigh on future air cargo growth.

The level of inventories remains relatively low compared to sales volumes. Historically, this has meant that businesses had to quickly refill their stocks, for which they also used air cargo services.

“Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.