Global cargo demand sees 9.4% rise in May from pre-Covid levels: IATA

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released May 2021 data for global air cargo markets showing that demand continued its strong growth trend. Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was up 9.4 percent compared to May 2019. Seasonally adjusted demand rose by 0.4 percent month-on-month in May, the 13th consecutive month of improvement.

The pace of growth slowed slightly in May compared to April which saw demand increase 11.3 percent against pre-Covid-19 levels (April 2019). Notwithstanding, air cargo outperformed global goods trade for the fifth consecutive month.

North American carriers contributed 4.6 percentage points to the 9.4 percent growth rate in May. Airlines in all other regions except for Latin America also supported the growth.

Capacity remains constrained at 9.7 percent below pre-Covid-19 levels (May 2019) due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft. Seasonally adjusted capacity rose 0.8 percent month-on- month in May, the fourth consecutive month of improvement indicating that the capacity crunch is slowly unwinding.

Underlying economic conditions and favourable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo:

  • Global trade rose 0.5 percent in April.
  • The Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs) - leading indicators of air cargo demand - show that business confidence, manufacturing output and new export orders are growing at a rapid pace in most economies.
  • The cost-competitiveness of air cargo relative to that of container shipping has improved. Pre-crisis, the average price of air cargo was 12 times more expensive than sea shipping. In May 2021 it was six time more expensive.

“Propelled by strong economic growth in trade and manufacturing, demand for air cargo is 9.4 percent above pre-crisis levels. As economies unlock, we can expect a shift in consumption from goods to services. This could slow growth for cargo in general, but improved competitiveness compared to sea shipping should continue to make air cargo a bright spot for airlines while passenger demand struggles with continued border closures and travel restrictions,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

May Regional Performance

Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo increase 5.3 percent in May 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease compared to the previous month (5.9 percent) due to a slight slowdown in growth in several large trade routes such as Within Asia. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 16.9 percent versus May 2019. As was the case in April, the region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor at 75.2 percent.

North American carriers posted a 25.5 percent increase in international demand in May 2021 compared to May 2019. This was on par with April’s performance (25.4 percent) and the strongest of all regions.  Underlying economic conditions and favorable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo carriers in North America. International capacity grew by 1.6 percent compared with May 2019.

European carriers posted 5.7 percent increase in demand in May 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease in performance compared to the previous month (11.5 percent) due to a slight slowdown in growth on key trade routes including Europe – Asia and Within Europe. International capacity decreased by 17.3 percent in May 2021 versus May 2019, remaining unchanged from the previous month.

Middle Eastern carriers posted a 14.1 percent rise in international cargo volumes in May 2021 versus May 2019. This was a slight decrease compared to the previous month (15.6 percent). Seasonally adjusted volumes remain on a robust upward trend. International capacity in May was down 6.1 percent compared to the same month in 2019, a robust improvement from the 10.1 percent drop in April.

Latin American carriers reported a decline of 14 percent in international cargo volumes in May compared to the 2019 period. This was the worst performance of all regions, but a significant improvement compared to the previous month, which saw a 32.3 percent drop in demand. Seasonally adjusted demand also rose strongly in May. International capacity decreased 24.9% compared with May 2019, an improvement over the 52.3 percent decrease in April.

African airlines’ cargo demand in May increased 24.5 percent compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease in performance compared to the previous month (34 percent) due to a slowdown in trade flows between Africa and Asia. May international capacity increased by 0.5 percent compared to May 2019, remaining relatively unchanged from April.


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