“Stellar year for air cargo”: IATA figures reveal biggest year-on-year growth in demand for air cargo since 2010

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Full-year air cargo performance figures from the International Airport Association (IATA) show the second-biggest year-on-year improvement in demand for air cargo since 2010.

In 2021, demand (measured in cargo tonne-kilometres) increased by 6.9 per cent compared to pre-covid levels and 18.7 per cent compared to 2020 – outpacing the 9.8 per cent rise in the global goods trade by 8.9 percentage points.

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“Air cargo had a stellar year in 2021. For many airlines, it provided a vital source of revenue as passenger demand remained in the doldrums due to Covid-19 travel restrictions,” said IATA’s director general Willie Walsh.

“Growth opportunities, however, were lost due to the pressures of labour shortages and constraints across the logistics system. Overall, economic conditions do point towards a strong 2022.”

CTK levels, actual and seasonally adjusted

Capacity in 2021 (measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres) remained 10.9 per cent below pre-Covid levels, with bottlenecks remaining at key hubs.

Walsh added: “Some relief on supply chain constraints occurred naturally in December as volumes decreased after peak shipping activity ended in advance of the Christmas holiday.

“This freed capacity to accommodate front-loading of some Lunar New Year shipments to avoid potential disruptions to flight schedules during the Winter Olympic games.

“And overall December cargo performance was assisted by additional belly-hold capacity as airlines accommodated an expected year-end boost to travel. As shortages of labour and storage capacity remain, governments must keep a sharp focus on supply chain constraints to protect the economic recovery.”

IATA outlined the following economic conditions for supporting air cargo growth:

  • Global goods trade rose 7.7% in November (latest month of data), compared to pre-crisis levels. Global industrial production was up 4.0% over the same period.
  • The inventory-to-sales ratio remains low. This is positive for air cargo as manufacturers turn to air cargo to rapidly meet demand.
  • The cost-competitiveness of air cargo relative to that of sea-container shipping remains favourable.
  • The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in many advanced economies has created strong demand for PPE shipments, which are usually carried by air.

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