The International Air Transport Association (Iata) – the global representative body of the airline industry – has reported that global air cargo demand during March reached the highest level recorded since Iata started collecting such data in 1990. Demand in March was 4.4% higher than in March 2019, the last month before the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the figures also show that the growth in demand decelerated in March. Air cargo demand in March 2021 was only 0.4% higher than in February 2021. Moreover, February 2021 air cargo demand had been 9.2% higher than in February 2019. This deceleration could be ascribed to weaker performances by Asian-Pacific and Latin American operators.
“Air cargo continues to be the bright spot for aviation,” pointed out Iata director-general Willie Walsh. “Demand reached an all-time high in March .... 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.”
Global air cargo capacity was 5.6% higher in March, compared to February, but still 11.7% down on the figure for February 2019. This was due to the continued grounding of so many airliners, which used to carry cargo in their belly holds. Cargo capacity on dedicated freighter aircraft operating on international routes increased by 20.6% in March compared to March 2019. But airliner belly-hold capacity on the same routes fell by 38.4% over the same period.
The performance of air cargo did, however, vary greatly across Iata’s regions. Africa was the best performer, Latin America the worst. African air cargo demand in March increased by 24.6% in comparison to March 2019, pushed by strong Asia-Africa trade flows. Latin American demand actually fell by 23.6% on international routes, over the same period.
The Asia-Pacific also experienced a decline in international demand over the same comparison period, although only slightly at 0.3%. The change in demand, March 2021 compared to March 2019, for European carriers was also small, but this time on the upside: a rise of 0.7%. Middle Eastern operators enjoyed an increase of 9.2% in international demand, while North America was the second best performing region, with an increase in international demand of 14.5%.