he International Air Transport Association (IATA) released March 2021 data for global air cargo markets, showing that air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-COVID levels in March 2019 with demand up by 4.4%.
March demand reached the highest level recorded since the series began in 1990. Month-on-month demand also increased, albeit at a slower pace than the previous month, with volumes up 0.4% in March over February 2021 levels, IATA announced in a press release yesterday.
Since comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, comparison was made with March 2019 that followed a normal demand pattern.
Global capacity, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), continued to recover in March, up to 5.6% compared to the previous month. Despite this, capacity remains 11.7% below pre-COVID-19 levels because of the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft.
Airlines continue to use dedicated freighters to plug the lack of belly-capacity. International capacity from dedicated freighters rose 20.6% in March 2021 compared to the same month in 2019 and belly-cargo capacity dropped by 38.4%
Demand for exports grew broadly in March. This was concentrated in developed countries during January and February.
Delivery times for manufactured goods are increasing, which normally shows increased demand for air cargo in efforts to recover time.
Global trade rose 0.3% in February–the ninth consecutive monthly increase and the longest continuous growth in over two decades.
“Air cargo continues to be the bright spot for aviation. Demand reached an all-time high in March, up 4.4% compared to pre-COVID levels (March 2019). And airlines are taking all measures to find the needed capacity. The crisis has shown that air cargo can meet fundamental challenges by adopting innovations quickly. That is how it is meeting growing demand even as much of the passenger fleet remains grounded. The sector needs to keep this momentum post-crisis to drive the sector’s long-term efficiency with digitalization,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo drop 0.3% in March 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. The slight weakness in performance compared to the previous month was seen on most of the trade lanes connected with Asia. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 20.7% by March 2019. The region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor at 78.4%.
North American carriers posted a 14.5% increase in international demand in March compared to March 2019. This powerful performance reflects the strength of the economic recovery in the US.
European carriers posted a 0.7% increase in demand in March compared to the same month in 2019. Improved operating conditions and recovering export orders contributed to the positive performance. International capacity decreased by 17% in March 2021 versus March 2019.
Middle Eastern carriers posted a 9.2% rise in international cargo volumes in March 2021 versus March 2019. Month-on-month, Middle East carriers posted the strongest growth of all regions, up 4.4%. Of the region’s key international routes, Middle East-North America and Middle East-Asia have provided the most significant support, rising 28% and 17% respectively in March compared to March 2019. International capacity in March was down 12.4% compared to the same month in 2019.
Latin America carriers reported a decline of 23.6% in international cargo volumes in March compared to the 2019 period; this was the worst performance of all regions. Drivers of air cargo demand in Latin America remain relatively less supportive than in the other regions. International capacity decreased 46.0% compared with March 2019.
African airlines’ cargo demand in March increased 24.6% compared to the same month in 2019, the strongest of all regions. Robust expansion on the Asia-Africa trade lanes contributed to the vigorous growth. March international capacity decreased by 2.1% compared to March 2019.