Air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-Covid levels with demand up 9% over February 2019, according to the latest International Air Transport Association (Iata) data.
February demand also showed strong month-on-month growth over January 2021 at +1.5%. Volumes have now returned to 2018 levels seen prior to the US-China trade war.
Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of Covid-19, Iata’s comparisons relate to February 2019 which followed a normal demand pattern.
All regions except for Latin America saw an improvement in demand compared to pre-Covid levels and North America and Africa were the strongest performers.
The recovery in global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres (ACTKs), however stalled owing to new capacity cuts on the passenger side as governments tightened travel restrictions due to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases. Capacity shrank 14.9% compared to February 2019.
The operating conditions remained supportive for air cargo, said Willie Walsh, Iata’s Director-General, underscored by conditions in the manufacturing sector which are robust despite the recent spike in Covid-19 outbreaks. The global manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was at 53.9 in February. Results above 50 indicate manufacturing growth versus the prior month.
The new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI – a leading indicator of air cargo demand – also picked up compared to January.
“Air cargo demand is not just recovering from the Covid-19 crisis, it is growing,” said Walsh. With demand at 9% above pre-crisis levels (Feb 2019), one of the main challenges for air cargo is finding sufficient capacity. This makes cargo yields a bright spot in an otherwise bleak industry situation. It also highlights the need for clarity on government plans for a safe industry restart. Understanding how passenger demand could recover will indicate how much belly capacity will be available for air cargo. Being able to efficiently plan that into air cargo operations will be a key element for overall recovery,” he added.