• Robust expansion on the Asia-Africa trade lanes contributed to the strong growth.

March 08, 2021: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released January 2021 data for global air cargo markets showing that air cargo demand returned to pre-Covid levels (January 2019) for the first time since the onset of the crisis. January demand also showed strong month-to-month growth over December 2020 levels.

African airlines’ cargo demand soared 22.4 percent compared to the same month in 2019, eclipsing the 6.3 percent year-over-year increase for December 2020. Robust expansion on the Asia-Africa trade lanes contributed to the strong growth. January international capacity decreased by 9.1 percent compared to January 2019, reduced compared to the 17.8 percent capacity decline recorded in December 2020 versus December 2019.

Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of Covid-19 globally, unless otherwise noted all comparisons to follow are to January 2019 which followed a normal demand pattern.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was up 1.1. percent compared to January 2019 and +3 percent compared to December 2020. All regions saw month-on-month improvement in air cargo demand, and North America and Africa were the strongest performers.

“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. 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general and CEO.

Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall 3.2 percent in January 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was an improvement from the 4 percent fall in December 2020. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 27 percent versus January 2019, which was deterioration compared to the 26.2 percent year-over-year decline recorded in December. The region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor at 74 percent.

European carriers’ international cargo demand slipped 0.6 percent in January compared to same month in 2019. This was an improvement from the 5.6 percent fall in December 2020 over the year-ago period. International capacity decreased 19.5 percent, deterioration from the 18.4 percent year-to-year decline recorded for December.

Middle Eastern carriers posted a 6 percent rise in international cargo volumes in January versus January 2019, which was acceleration over the 2.4 percent year over year gain recorded in December compared to December 2019. Of the region’s key international routes, Middle East-Asia and Middle East-North America have provided the most significant support.

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