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May Air Cargo Demand Lands 9.4% Above Pre-Covid Levels

Global air cargo demand was up 9.4 percent compared to May 2019, with seasonally adjusted demand rising 0.4 percent compared to April–the 13th consecutive month of improvement, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported.

IATA said as comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of Covid-19, comparisons in its data set were made to May 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

The pace of growth slowed slightly in May compared to April, which saw demand increase 11.3 percent against pre-COVID-19 levels in April 2019. But air cargo did outperform global goods trade for the fifth straight month.

Capacity remains constrained at 9.7 percent below pre-COVID-19 levels in May 2019 due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft, IATA noted. Seasonally adjusted capacity rose 0.8 percent month-on-month, the fourth consecutive month of improvement indicating that the capacity crunch is slowly unwinding.

IATA said underlying economic conditions and favorable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo. This includes a 0.5 percent increases in global trade in April. What’s more, the cost-competitiveness of air cargo relative to that of container shipping has improved. Pre-crisis, the average price of air cargo was 12 times more expensive than sea shipping. In May this year, it was just six time more expensive, IATA said.

“As economies unlock, we can expect a shift in consumption from goods to services,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, said. “This could slow growth for cargo in general, but improved competitiveness compared to sea shipping should continue to make air cargo a bright spot for airlines, while passenger demand struggles with continued border closures and travel restrictions.”

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North American carriers contributed 4.6 percentage points to the 9.4 percent growth rate in May. Airlines in all other regions except for Latin America also supported the increase.

Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo increase 5.3 percent in May compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease compared to the previous month due to a slight slowdown in growth in several large trade routes such as “within Asia,” IATA said. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 16.9 percent versus May 2019.

North American carriers posted a 25.5 percent increase in international demand in the month from two years earlier. This was on par with April’s performance and the strongest of all regions. International capacity grew 1.6 percent compared with May 2019.

“Underlying economic conditions and favorable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo carriers in North America,” IATA said.

European carriers posted a 5.7 percent rise in demand in May 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease in performance compared to the previous month due to a slight slowdown in growth on key trade routes. International capacity decreased 17.3 percent in May versus May 2019, remaining unchanged from the previous month.

Middle Eastern carriers saw a 14.1 percent rise in international cargo volumes in May from the same month in 2019. This was a slight decrease compared to the previous month. International capacity in May was down 6.1 percent compared to the same month in 2019, up from the 10.1 percent drop in April.

Latin American carriers reported a 14 percent decline in international cargo volumes in May compared to the 2019 period. This was the worst performance of all regions, but a significant improvement compared to the previous month, which saw a 32.3 percent decline in demand. International capacity decreased 24.9 percent compared with May 2019, an improvement over the 52.3 percent decrease in April.

African airlines’ cargo demand in May increased 24.5 percent compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease in performance compared to the previous month due to a slowdown in trade flows between Africa and Asia, IATA noted. May international capacity increased by 0.5 percent compared to May 2019, remaining relatively unchanged from April.