Air cargo tracking near 2019 levels, IATA says

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by Emily Atkins

Air cargo demand continued to track at near pre-pandemic levels in July, but remained below July 2021 performance.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) statistics showed global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), fell 9.7 percent overall compared to July 2021, and -10.2 percent for international operations. Demand stood at  minus 3.5 percent compared to July 2019.

Capacity was 3.6 percent above July 2021, and  up 6.8 percent for international operations, but still 7.8 percent below July 2019 levels.

​​​New export orders, a leading indicator of cargo demand, decreased in all markets, except China which began a sharp upward trend in June.

The war in Ukraine continues to impair cargo capacity used to serve Europe as several airlines based in Russia and Ukraine were key cargo players.

Global goods trade continued to recover in Q2 and the additional easing of COVID-19 restrictions in China will further boost recovery in coming months. While maritime will be the main beneficiary, air cargo is set to receive a boost.

“Air cargo is tracking at near 2019 levels although it has taken a step back compared to the extra-ordinary performance of 2020-2021. Volatility resulting from supply chain constraints and evolving economic conditions has seen cargo markets essentially move sideways since April. July data shows us that air cargo continues to hold its own, but as is the case for almost all industries, we’ll need to carefully watch both economic and political developments over the coming months,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease by 9.0 percent in July 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was a significant decrease over the 2.1 percent decline in June. Airlines in the region continue to be impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, labor shortages, and lower levels of trade and manufacturing activity due to Omicron-related restrictions. The scale of the decrease indicates volatility in volumes, as pent-up demand from the last Omicron-related lockdowns in China should prevent such notable declines in volumes. Available capacity in the region increased by 2.7 percent compared to July 2021.

North American carriers posted a 5.7 percent decrease in cargo volumes in July 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was an improvement over the 13.5 percent decline in June.  The lifting of restrictions in China is expected to boost demand in the coming months. Capacity was up 4.2 percent compared to July 2021

European carriers saw a 17 percent decrease in cargo volumes in July 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was the worst performance of all regions for the third month in a row. This is attributable to the war in Ukraine. Labour shortages and lower manufacturing activity in Asia due to Omicron also affected volumes. Capacity increased 0.9 percent in July 2022 compared to July 2021.

Middle Eastern carriers experienced a 10.9 percent year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in July 2022. Significant benefits from traffic being redirected to avoid flying over Russia failed to materialize and stagnant cargo volumes to/from Europe impacted the region’s performance. Capacity was up 4.9 percent compared to July 2021.

Latin American carriers reported an increase of 9.2 percent in cargo volumes in July 2022 compared to July 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 July was up 21.4 percent compared to the same month in 2021.

African airlines saw cargo volumes decrease by 3.5 percent in July 2022 compared to July 2021. This was significantly slower than the growth recorded the previous month (5.7 percent). Capacity was 2.2 percent below July 2021 levels.