Global air cargo demand in March continued to outperform pre-Covid levels; it was up 4.4 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.

    That’s according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which said March demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), reached the highest level recorded since the organisation began its market analysis series in 1990.

    Month-on-month demand also increased albeit at a slower pace than the previous month with volumes up 0.4 per cent in March over February 2021 levels, IATA said.

    Air cargo market overview
    Source: IATA. Click to enlarge.

    “Air cargo continues to be the bright spot for aviation,” said IATA’s director general Willie Walsh. “Demand reached an all-time high [..] and airlines are taking all measures to find the needed capacity.

    “The crisis has shown that air cargo can meet fundamental challenges by adopting innovations quickly. That is how it is meeting growing demand even as much of the passenger fleet remains grounded. The sector needs to retain this momentum post-crisis to drive the sector’s long-term efficiency with digitalisation.”

    CTK levels
    Source: IATA. Click to enlarge.
    CTK growth
    Source: IATA. Click to enlarge.

    The demand growth rate in March was notably slower than in February though, when demand increased 9.2 per cent compared to February 2019. A weaker performance by Asia Pacific and African carriers compared to February contributed to the softer growth in March, IATA said.

    Global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres (ACTKs), continued to recover in March as it was up 5.6 per cent compared to the previous month. Despite this, capacity remains 11.7 per cent below pre-Covid levels (March 2019) due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft.

     CTK and RPK short-term forecast
    CTK and RPK short-term forecast. Click to enlarge.

    Airlines continue to use dedicated freighters to plug the lack of available belly-capacity, IATA noted. International capacity from dedicated freighters rose 20.6 per cent in March 2021 compared to the same month in 2019 and belly-cargo capacity of passenger aircraft dropped by 38.4 per cent.

    IATA also noted that underlying economic conditions remained supportive for air cargo, with demand for exports and new export orders both growing, broadly speaking. Delivery times for manufactured goods increased, which the organisation said normally indicates increased demand for air cargo in efforts to reduce shipping time, while global trade rose 0.3 per cent in February. This represented the ninth consecutive monthly increase and the longest continuous growth in more than two decades.

     Cargo load factors by region
    Cargo load factors by region