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Air Cargo Recovery Picked Up in September, Led by North America and Africa

Air cargo demand, while strengthening, remains depressed compared to 2019 levels, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in releasing September data for global markets.

Global demand was 8 percent below prior-year levels in September, an improvement from the 12.1 percent year-on-year drop recorded in August. Month-on-month demand grew 3.7 percent in September.

Global capacity declined 25.2 percent in September compared to the previous year. That is nearly three times larger than the contraction in demand, indicating a severe lack of capacity in the market, IATA noted.

Strong regional variations are emerging, the IATA reported, with North American and African carriers reporting year-on-year gains in demand, while all other regions remained in negative territory compared to a year earlier.

“Air cargo volumes are down on 2019, but they are a world apart from the extreme difficulties in the passenger business,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said. “For air cargo, 92 percent of the business is still there, whereas about 90 percnt of international passenger traffic has disappeared. Favorable indicators for the peak year-end season will support the continued recovery in demand. Already, North American and African carriers are reporting demand gains on 2019. The challenge continues to be on capacity. As carriers adjust schedules to reflect falling passenger demand amid the resurgence of COVID-19, valuable belly capacity will be lost when it is needed the most.”

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Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall 14.6 percent in September compared to the same month a year earlier. This was an improvement from the 16.4 percent fall in August. Demand on routes between Asia-North America and Asia-Africa were strongest.

North American carriers returned to pre-crisis levels, posting a 1.5 percent increase in international demand compared to the previous year–the first growth in 10 months.

“This strong performance was driven by the Asia-North America routes, reflecting e-commerce demand for products manufactured in Asia,” IATA said.

European carriers reported a decrease in demand of 15.7 percent compared to the previous year. Improvements have been slight but consistent amid recovering economic activity and increasing exports, however, all major routes remained in contractionary territory.

Middle Eastern carriers reported a 2.5 percent decline in cargo volume year-on-year in September, a significant improvement from the 6.7 percent fall in August.

Latin American carriers reported a decline of 22.2 percent compared to the previous year. The region’s weak performance is owing to a severe slowdown in economic activity including trade, rather than insufficient cargo capacity, IATA said.

African airlines saw demand increase 9.7 percent year-on-year in September. This was the fifth consecutive month in which the region posted the strongest increase in international demand.