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Air Cargo Demand Remains High, Capacity Lags

Global air cargo markets continued to see strong demand in August but pressure on capacity rose, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported Wednesday.

Global demand was up 7.7 percent compared to August 2019, with overall growth remaining strong against the long-term average growth trend of around 4.7 percent. The pace of growth slowed slightly compared to July, which saw demand increase 8.8 percent against pre-COVID-19 levels.

The cargo capacity recovery paused in August, falling 12.2 percent compared to August 2019. In month-on-month terms, capacity fell 1.6 percent—the largest drop since January 2021. IATA said as comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of Covid-19, comparisons were made to August 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

“Many of the economic indicators point to a strong year-end peak season,” IATA director general Willie Walsh said. “With international travel still severely depressed, there are fewer passenger planes offering belly capacity for cargo, and supply chain bottlenecks could intensify as businesses continue to ramp up production.”

Broken down by regions, IATA reported that Asia-Pacific airlines saw their international air cargo volumes increase 3 percent in August compared to the same month in 2019. This was a slowdown in demand compared to the previous month’s 4.4 percent expansion.

“Demand is being affected by an easing in growth momentum in key activity indicators in Asia and by congested supply chains, especially on within-Asia and Europe-Asia routes,” IATA said. “International capacity is significantly constrained in the region, down 21.7 percent versus August 2019.’

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North American carriers posted an 18 percent increase in international cargo volume last month from August 2019. New export orders and demand for faster shipping times are underpinning the North American performance, IATA noted.

“The downside risk from capacity constraints is high,” the report said, while international cargo capacity remained restricted and many key air cargo hubs in the regions reported “severe congestion, including Los Angeles and Chicago.” International capacity decreased 6.6 percent in the period.

European airlines saw a 6 percent rise in international cargo volume in August compared to the same month in 2019. This was on a par with July’s performance.

IATA said manufacturing activity, orders and long supplier delivery times remained favorable to air cargo demand. International capacity decreased 13.6 percent.

Middle Eastern carriers experienced a 15.4 percent rise in international cargo volume in the month versus August 2019, an improvement compared to the previous month’s 13.4 percent gain. The large Middle East–Asia trade lanes continue to post strong performance, the report noted.

Latin American airlines reported a 14 percent decline in international cargo volumes in August compared to the 2019 period, which was the weakest performance of all regions. Capacity remained significantly constrained in the region, decreasing 27.1 percent in August—also the largest drop of any region.

African carriers saw international cargo volume increase 33.9 percent in August, the largest increase of all regions. IATA said investment flows along the Africa-Asia route continue to drive the regional outcomes, with volumes on the route up 26.4 percent over two years ago.