Global air cargo demand returned to pre-Covid levels in January for the first time since the onset of the crisis, according to statistics shared today by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Demand as measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) was up 1.1.% compared to January 2019 and up 3% compared to December 2020, the Geneva-based group said. IATA also noted that it is tracking that trend based on a comparison to January 2019—two years ago—because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of Covid-19.
Even as air cargo demand rose, capacity sank. As measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), a brief recovery in capacity was reversed in January owing to new capacity cuts on the passenger side. Capacity shrank 19.5% compared to January 2019 and fell 5% compared to December 2020, its first monthly decline since April 2020.
“Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy. But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general and CEO, said in a release. “That should be a sign to governments that they need to share their plans for restart so that the industry has clarity in terms of how soon more capacity can be brought online. In normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air. This high value commerce is vital to helping restore Covid-damaged economies—not to mention the critical role air cargo is playing in distributing lifesaving vaccines that must continue for the foreseeable future.”
IATA also reported that some conditions look promising for a continued recovery, pointing to the global manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) value of 53.5 for January. Results above 50 indicate manufacturing growth versus the prior month.
Likewise, the new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI – a leading indicator of air cargo demand– continued to point to further CTK improvement. However, the group also noted a counterweight to that report, saying that the performance of that metric was less robust compared with Q42020, as Covid-19 resurgence negatively impacted export business in emerging markets. Should this continue or expand to other markers, it could weigh on future air cargo growth, IATA said.