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Air Cargo Recovery Lifted in October, But Capacity Crunch Remained

Air cargo demand continued to improve in October, but remained depressed from previous-year levels, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported Monday.

Global demand was 6.2 percent below previous-year levels in October, better than the 7.8 percent year-on-year decline recorded in September. Global capacity fell 22.6 percent in October compared to the prior year and was nearly four times larger than the contraction in demand, indicating the continuing and severe capacity crunch, IATA said.

“Demand for air cargo is coming back–a trend we see continuing into the fourth quarter,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said. “The biggest problem for air cargo is the lack of capacity, as much of the passenger fleet remains grounded. The end of the year is always peak season for air cargo. That will likely be exaggerated with shoppers relying on e-commerce, 80 percent of which is delivered by air.”

“So, the capacity crunch from the grounded aircraft will hit particularly hard in the closing months of 2020, and the situation will become even more critical as we search for capacity for the impending vaccine deliveries,” de Juniac added.

Strong regional variations continued, with North American and African carriers reporting year-on-year gains in demand of 6.2 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively, while all other regions remained in negative territory compared to a year earlier.

North American carriers posted a 1.3 percent increase in international demand in October compared to the previous year.

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“The strong performance compared to the rest of the industry was driven by the Asia-North America routes, reflecting rising e-commerce demand for products manufactured in Asia and smaller capacity declines than other regions,” IATA said. “The region’s domestic market decelerated slightly from September but remained robust. International capacity decreased by 16.6 percent.”

Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall 11.6 percent in October compared to the same month in 2019. This was an improvement from the 14.6 percent fall in September and the second consecutive month of improvement. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 28.7 percent. The region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor, “indicating a solid appetite for air cargo services,” IATA said.

European carriers reported an 11.9 percent decrease in demand in October compared to the previous year. This was an improvement from the 15.6 percent fall in September.

Middle Eastern carriers reported a decline of 1.9 percent in year-on-year international cargo volumes in October, unchanged from September. The weaker performance was driven by less volume in Africa-Middle East trade lanes.

Decline fell 12.5 percent for Latin American carriers in the month, a significant improvement from the 22 percent decrease in September. The region’s improved year-on-year performance can be partly attributed to weak growth in the same period last year, IATA noted. However, improving operating conditions in a few key markets, including Brazil and recovering cargo capacity also contributed.

African airlines saw demand increase 2.8 percent year-on-year in October–lower than the 12.1 percent growth in September.  The slight weakening in performance can be attributed to a slowdown in the Asia-Africa market, where demand decelerated by 19 percent year-on-year, IATA said.