Air Cargo Management

Air cargo demand was back to pre-Covid-19 levels in January, reports IATA

IATA Alexandre de Juniac, cash

Global air cargo demand returned to pre-Covid-19 levels in January 2021 – the first time it has done so since the crisis began.

That’s according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose data also showed strong month-to-month growth in demand over December 2020 levels.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was up 1.1 per cent compared to January 2019 [the usual year-before period comparison being distorted by the pandemic] 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, IATA said.

IATA Jan 2
Source: IATA. Click to enlarge.
IATA Jan 1
CTK levels, actual and seasonally adjusted. Click to enlarge.

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.

IATA noted that the operating backdrop remained “supportive” for air cargo volumes. Conditions in the manufacturing sector, for example, 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.

IATA Jan 3
Source: IATA. Click to enlarge.

The new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI – an indicator of air cargo demand– continued to point to further CTK improvement. However, the performance of the metric was less robust compared with Q4 2020 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,” IATA said.

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

IATA Jan 4
Cargo load factors by region. Click to enlarge.

Of the January 2021 data, IATA’s director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac commented: “Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy. But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft.

“That should be a sign to governments that they need to share their plans for restart so that the industry has clarity in terms of how soon more capacity can be brought online. In normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air. This high value commerce is vital to helping restore Covid damaged economies – not to mention the critical role air cargo is playing in distributing lifesaving vaccines that must continue for the foreseeable future.”

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