Inside Logistics

Air cargo crashes in April

Demand down, but capacity down even more

June 3, 2020

GENEVA – Air cargo demand fell by 27.7 percent in April compared to April 2019, the sharpest decline ever recorded.

The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) data for global air freight markets shows there was insufficient capacity to meet demand as a result of the loss of belly cargo operations on passenger aircraft.

Global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne kilometers (ACTKs), shrank by 42 percent in April compared to the previous year (-40.9 percent for international markets).

Belly capacity for international air cargo shrank by 75 percent in April compared to the previous year. This was partially offset by a 15 percent increase in capacity through expanded use of freighter aircraft.

The cargo load factor (CLF) rose 11.5 percentage points in April, the largest increase since tracking began. The magnitude of the rise suggests that there is significant demand for air cargo which cannot be met owing to the cessation of most passenger flights.

“There is a severe capacity crunch in air cargo. The result is damaging global supply chains with longer shipping times and higher costs,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

“Airlines are deploying as much capacity as possible, including special charter operations and the temporary use of passenger cabins for cargo. Governments need to continue to ensure that vital supply lines remain open and efficient.”

Delays in getting operational permits issued, blockages at the border and inadequate ground infrastructure to/from and within airport environments continue to hamper air cargo in countries in Africa and Latin America.

IATA urges governments to:

  • Accelerate approvals for cargo operations
  • Expedite customs clearance for urgently needed medical supplies
  • Ensure there is adequate staff on the ground and land-based infrastructure to move cargo efficiently

Regional Performance

April 2020 (% year-on-year) World share1 CTK ACTK CLF (%-pt)2 CLF (level)3
Total Market 100% -27.7% -42.0% 11.5% 58.0%
Africa 1.8% -21.7% -38.7% 10.5% 48.6%
Asia Pacific 34.6% -31.0% -48.3% 17.3% 69.1%
Europe 23.6% -33.7% -48.8% 14.8% 64.8%
Latin America 2.8% -43.7% -64.5% 20.5% 55.4%
Middle East 13.0% -36.3% -43.4% 5.9% 52.5%
North America 24.3% -11.5% -26.4% 8.2% 48.7%

1 % of industry CTKs in 2019  2 Year-on-year change in load factor  3 Load factor level

Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall by 28.1 percent in April 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier. However, the large Asia-North America market recorded less of a decline (7.3 percent) due to the rise in movement of personal protective equipment (PPE).  International capacity decreased 42.5 percent.

North American carriers reported a fall in international demand of 20.1 percent year-on-year in April. This was the smallest contraction of all regions. While still a significant drop, it remains less than the decline seen at the height of the Global Financial Crisis in April 2009 (-32.3 percent). International capacity decreased 27.7 percent.

European carriers reported a 33.8% annual drop in international cargo volumes in April, much sharper than the outcome for March (-18.5 percent). However, the large Europe-Asia market recorded less of a decline due to the rise in movement of PPE. International capacity decreased 46.9 percent.

Latin American carriers posted the sharpest fall—a 38.9 percent year-on-year decline in international demand. International capacity decreased 55.5 percent. The COVID-19 crisis is particularly challenging for airlines based in Latin America owing to strict containment measures and a lack of support from Governments to keep cargo moving.

African airlines were less affected by disruptions from COVID-19 than other regions in April. They saw year-on-year international CTKs fall by 20.9 percent. The small Africa-Asia market was the most resilient route in April, down only 1.0%. International capacity decreased 36.6 percent.