Air cargo demand dropped sharply in March, except in Africa; capacity down even more

29th April 2020 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Worldwide air cargo demand fell sharply in March, but air cargo capacity fell even more, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) reported on April 28. But the demand for air cargo for pharmaceuticals increased by about 100%. (Iata defines air cargo as being freight plus mail.) These developments were the result of the Covid-19 pandemic and attempts by countries to contain it.

“At present, we don’t have enough capacity to meet the remaining demand for air cargo,” warned Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “Volumes fell by over 15% in March compared to the previous year. But capacity plummeted by almost 23%. The gap must be addressed quickly because vital supplies must get to where they are needed most. For example, there is a doubling of demand for pharmaceutical shipments that are critical to this crisis.”

But air cargo charter operations were still being hampered by delays in the issuing of permits, by inadequate ground infrastructure not only within airports but to and from airports as well, and by failures to exempt cargo aircraft flight crew from Covid-19 testing. To be effective, air cargo needed its entire supply chain to be efficient.

“With most of the passenger fleet sitting idle, airlines are doing their best to meet demand by adding freighter services, including adapting passenger aircraft to all-cargo activity,” he reported. “But mounting these special operations continues to face bureaucratic hurdles. Governments must cut the red tape needed to approve special flights and ensure safe and efficient facilitation of crew.”

Consequently, Iata called on governments to reduce the bureaucracy required to authorise cargo charter flights. The association also urged countries to exempt cargo aircraft flight crew from the quarantine rules that were applied to their populations at large, and to make certain that there were adequate air cargo processing staff and facilities to ensure efficient operations on the ground.

The region least affected by the fall in air cargo demand was Africa, where international demand, measured in cargo (metric) ton kilometres, fell by only 1.2% (year-on-year) in March. In fact, the Africa-Asia route was the world’s only air cargo trade lane which grew in March, by nearly 10% in volume terms year-on-year. In contrast, the worst affected region was Latin America, which saw a 19.3% drop in demand, year-on-year. Demand in Europe fell 18.8%, in the Asia-Pacific by 15.9%, in the Middle East by 14.1% and in North America by 13.1%.