Air Cargo Demand Reaches Record High in March 2021

(05 May 2021)
IATA’s March 2021 data for global air cargo markets
shows that air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-COVID
levels (March 2019) with demand up 4.4%.

Demand in March 2021 reached the highest level
recorded since the series began in 1990.

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

Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly
results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID19,
unless otherwise noted all comparisons below are to March 2019
which followed a normal demand pattern.


Global demand,
measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was up 4.4% compared to
March 2019 and 0.4% compared to February 2021. This was a slower
rate of growth than the previous month, which saw demand increase
9.2% compared to February 2019. A weaker performance by
Asia-Pacific and African carriers compared to February contributed
to softer growth in March.

Global capacity, measured in
available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), continued to recover in
March, up 5.6% compared to the previous month. Despite this,
capacity remans 11.7% below pre-COVID19 levels (March 2019) due
to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft.

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

 Underlying economic conditions remain supportive for air cargo:

– This is evidenced in the new export orders component of
the manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) which stood at
53.4 in March. Results above 50 indicate manufacturing growth
versus the prior month.

– Demand for exports grew broadly in
March. This was concentrated in developed countries during January
and February.

– Delivery times for manufactured goods are
increasing which normally indicates increased demand for air cargo
in efforts to reduce shipping time.

– Global trade rose 0.3% in
February – the ninth consecutive monthly increase and the longest
continuous growth in more than two decades.

“Air cargo
continues to be the bright spot for aviation. Demand reached an
all-time high in March, up 4.4% compared to pre-COVID levels
(March, 2019). 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
digitalization,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

March Regional Performance

Asia-Pacific airlines saw
demand for international air cargo drop 0.3% in March 2021
compared to the same month in 2019. The slight weakness in
performance compared to the previous month was seen on most of the
trade lanes connected with Asia. International capacity remained
constrained in the region, down 20.7% versus March 2019. The region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor
at 78.4%.

North American carriers posted a 14.5%
increase in international demand in March compared to March 2019.
This strong performance reflects the strength of the economic
recovery in the US. In Q1, US GDP rose by 6.4% in annualized
terms, up from 4.3% in Q4 bringing the country’s economy close to
pre-COVID levels. The business environment for air cargo remains
supportive; the new export orders component of the PMI rose to its
highest level since 2007. International capacity grew by 1.8%
compared with March 2019.

European carriers posted a
0.7% increase in demand in March compared to the same month in
2019. Improved operating conditions and recovering export orders
contributed to the positive performance. International capacity
decreased by 17% in March 2021 versus March 2019.

Middle
Eastern carriers posted a 9.2% rise in international cargo volumes
in March 2021 versus March 2019. Month-on-month, Middle East
carriers posted the strongest growth of all regions, up 4.4%. Of
the region’s key international routes, Middle East-North America
and Middle East-Asia have provided the most significant support,
rising 28% and 17% respectively in March compared to March 2019.
International capacity in March was down 12.4% compared to the
same month in 2019.

Latin American carriers reported a
decline of 23.6% in international cargo volumes in March compared
to the 2019 period; this was the worst performance of all regions.
Drivers of air cargo demand in Latin America remain relatively less supportive than in the other regions. International capacity
decreased 46.0% compared with March 2019.

African
airlines’ cargo demand in March increased 24.6% compared to the
same month in 2019, the strongest of all regions. Robust expansion
on the Asia-Africa trade lanes contributed to the strong growth.
March international capacity decreased by 2.1% compared to March
2019.

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