The International Air Transport Association (Iata), the representative body of the global commercial aviation (airline and air cargo) sector, has released its latest report (dated April 1) on air freight demand during this past February. “The spread of Covid-19 intensified over the month of February, and with it, the impact on air cargo,” pointed out Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.
Air freight traffic is measured in cargo (metric) ton kilometres, or CTKs. One CTK is one (metric) ton of revenue-generating cargo carried for one kilometre.
In comparison to February 2019, February 2020 CTKs were down just 1.4%. However, this disregarded the facts that the Lunar New Year fell in February last year and that this year was a leap year. Once adjusted for these occurrences, this February’s air cargo demand was 9.1% below that of February last year.
This past February saw many factories closed and travel restrictions imposed in China, one of the biggest air freight markets in the world. Export orders fell worldwide – all the top trading countries reported declines in orders. And the significant loss of cargo capacity, caused by the reduction in air passenger operations (airliners also carry freight) as a result of travel restrictions imposed to try and counter Covid-19, had a serious effect on global supply chains.
However, the impact of Covid-19 during February was neither uniform nor universal. In fact, in the African, Latin American and Middle Eastern regions, air cargo increased.
Africa was the region with the fastest growth in February, for the twelfth month in succession. In non-seasonally adjusted terms, African air freight demand increased by 6.2% in comparison to the same period last year, while the continent’s air cargo capacity rose by 3%. But Africa accounted for only 1.8% of global air freight.
“Asia-Pacific carriers were the most affected with a seasonally-adjusted drop of 15.5%,” highlighted De Juniac. “The disruption of global supply chains led to a fall in demand. But the dramatic disruption in passenger traffic resulted in even deeper cuts to cargo capacity. And the industry is struggling to serve remaining demand with the limited capacity available. We only got a first glimpse of this in February.”
“Among all the uncertainty in this crisis, one thing is clear – air cargo is vital,” he affirmed. “It is delivering lifesaving drugs and medical equipment. And it is supporting global supply chains. That’s why it is critical for governments to remove any blockers as the industry does all it can to keep the global air cargo network functioning in the crisis and ready for the recovery.”