Air cargo demand dropping

by Emily Atkins

Global air cargo demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), fell 11.2 percent compared to April 2021. Global demand is down one percent compared to April 2019.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released April 2022 data for global air cargo markets showing that the effects of Omicron in Asia and the Russia–Ukraine war continue to create a challenging operating backdrop driving the decline.

Capacity was two percent below 2021. Both global capacity and international capacity decreased slightly in April compared to March. Asia experienced the largest drops in capacity.

War in Ukraine​​​​​​

The war in Ukraine led to a delcine in cargo capacity used to serve Europe as several airlines based in Russia and Ukraine were key cargo players. The zero-Covid policy in China led to capacity challenges due to flight cancellations because of labour shortages.

New export orders, a leading indicator of cargo demand and world trade are now shrinking in all markets except the U.S. Global merchandise trade has continued to decline in 2022, with China’s economy growing more slowly because of Covid-19 related lockdowns, among other factors. The lockdowns have brought much of the world’s largest port, Shanghai, to a standstill. Supply chain disruptions due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict are also adding to the downward pressure on trade.

“Air cargo demand fell by 11.2 percent in April and capacity contracted two percent compared to April 2021. The combination of the war in Ukraine and COVID-19 lockdowns in China have pushed up energy costs, intensified supply chain disruptions, and fed inflation,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

“The operating environment is challenging for all businesses, including air cargo. But with China easing lockdown restrictions, there is cause for some optimism and the supply/demand imbalance is keeping yields high.”

Regional results

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease by 15.8 percent in April 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was the weakest performance of all regions and significantly slower than the previous month (-5.1 percent).

Airlines in the region have been heavily impacted by lower trade and manufacturing activity due to Omicron-related lockdowns in China. Because of this, available capacity in the region fell 19.4 percent compared to April 2021, the largest drop of all regions.

North American carriers posted a 6.6 percent decrease in cargo volumes in April 2022 compared to April 2021. Demand in the Asia-North America market declined significantly.

However, other key routes such as Europe – North America remain strong. Capacity was up 5.2 percent compared to April 2021. Several carriers in the region are set to receive delivery of freighters in 2022, which should help address pent-up demand on routes where it is needed.

European carriers saw a 14.4 percent decrease in cargo volumes in April 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. The Within Europe market fell significantly, down 24.6 percent month on month. This is attributable to the war in Ukraine.

Labour shortages and lower manufacturing activity in Asia due to Omicron also affected volumes. Capacity fell 0.2 percent in April 2022 compared to April 2021.

Middle Eastern carriers experienced a 11.9 percent year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in April. Significant benefits from traffic being redirected to avoid flying over Russia failed to materialize. This is likely due to persisting supply chain issues in Asia. Capacity was up six percent compared to April 2021.

Latin American carriers reported an increase of 40.9 percent in cargo volumes in April 2022 compared to the 2021 period. This was the strongest performance of all regions. Airlines in this region have shown optimism by introducing new services and capacity, and in some cases investing in additional aircraft for air cargo in the coming months.  Capacity in April was up 67.8 percent compared to the same month in 2021.

African airlines saw cargo volumes decrease by 6.3 percent in April 2022 compared to April 2021. This was significantly slower than the growth recorded the previous month (3.1 percent). Capacity was 1.5 percent below April 2021 levels.