Air cargo demand declines by double digits in September

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by Emily Atkins

Global air cargo demand softened in September, falling almost 11 percent from the previous month.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data for September 2022 showing demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), fell 10.6 percent compared to September 2021, but continued to track at near pre-pandemic levels (-3.6 percent).

Capacity was 2.4 percent above September 2021 (+5.0 percent for international operations) but still 7.4 percent below September 2019 levels (-8.1 percent for international operations).

Following contractions across major economies, the global Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for new export orders also contracted (for a third month in a row) to its lowest level in two years. The latest global goods trade figures showed a 5.2 percent expansion in August, a positive sign for the global economy. This is expected to primarily benefit maritime cargo, with a slight boost to air cargo as well.

Oil prices remained stable in September and the jet fuel crack spread fell from a peak in June.

The Consumer Price Index stabilized in G7 countries in September, but at a decades high level of 7.7 percent. Inflation in producer (input) prices slowed to 13.7 percent in August.

“While air cargo’s activity continues to track near to 2019 levels, volumes remain below 2021’s exceptional performance as the industry faces some headwinds. At the consumer level, with travel restrictions lifting post-pandemic, people are likely to spend more on vacation travel and less on e-commerce,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

“And at the macro-level, increasing recession warnings are likely to have a negative impact on the global flows of goods and services, balanced slightly by a stabilization of oil prices. Against this backdrop, air cargo is bearing up well. And a strategic slow-down in capacity growth from 6.3 percent in August to 2.4 percent in September demonstrates the flexibility the industry has in adjusting to economic developments.”

September 2022(% year-on-year)World share1CTKACTKCLF (%-pt)2CLF (level)3
Total Market100.0%-10.6%2.4%-7.0%48.1%
Africa1.9%0.1%-4.1%1.9%45.1%
Asia Pacific32.6%-10.7%2.8%-8.7%57.2%
Europe22.8%-15.6%0.2%-9.9%52.8%
Latin America2.2%10.8%18.4%-2.6%38.1%
Middle East13.4%-15.8%-2.8%-7.4%47.8%
North America27.2%-6.0%4.6%-4.4%39.6%

1 % of industry CTKs in 2021  2 Change in load factor   3 Load factor level

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease by 10.7 percent in September 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was a decline in performance compared to August (-8.3 percent). Airlines in the region continue to be impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, labour shortages, and lower levels of trade and manufacturing activity due to Omicron-related restrictions in China. Available capacity in the region increased by 2.8 percent compared to 2021.

North American carriers posted a 6.0 percent decrease in cargo volumes in September 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was a decline in performance compared to August (3.4 percent).  Capacity was up 4.6 percent compared to September 2021.

European carriers saw a 15.6 percent decrease in cargo volumes in September 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was on a par with August’s performance (-15.1 percent). This is attributable to the war in Ukraine. Labor shortages and high inflation levels, most notably in Turkey, also affected volumes. Capacity increased 0.2 percent in September 2022 compared to September 2021.

Middle Eastern carriers experienced a 15.8 percent year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in September 2022. This was the worst performance of all regions and a significant decline compared to the previous month (-11.3 percent). Stagnant cargo volumes to/from Europe impacted the region’s performance. Capacity was down 2.8 percent compared to September 2021.

Latin American carriers reported an increase of 10.8 percent in cargo volumes in September 2022 compared to September 2021. 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 September was up 18.4 percent compared to the same month in 2021.

African airlines saw cargo volumes increase by 0.1 percent in September 2022 compared to September 2021. This was a slight decrease in the growth recorded the previous month (1.0 percent). Capacity was 4.1 percent below September 2021 levels.