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May Air Cargo Buoyed by Easing of Covid Restrictions in China

The easing of pandemic restrictions in China helped to alleviate supply chain constraints and contributed to an improvement for global air cargo markets in May, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported Thursday.

Global demand was 8.3 percent below May 2021 levels, but was an improvement on the year-on-year decline of 9.1 percent in April. Capacity was 2.7 percent above May 2021, more than offsetting the 0.7 percent year-on-year drop in April. Capacity expanded in all regions, with Asia-Pacific experiencing the largest growth.

In addition to trade activity ramping up slightly in May as lockdowns in China due to Omicron were eased, IATA noted that said emerging regions also contributed to growth with stronger volumes.

However, new export orders, a leading indicator of cargo demand and world trade, decreased in all markets, except China. The war in Ukraine continues to impair cargo capacity used to serve Europe, as several airlines based in Russia and Ukraine were key cargo players.

“May offered positive news for air cargo, most notably because of the easing of some Omicron restrictions in China,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, said. “On a seasonally adjusted basis, we saw growth (0.3 percent) after two months of decline. The return of Asian production as Covid-19 measures eased, particularly in China, will support demand for air cargo, and the strong rebound in passenger traffic has increased belly capacity, although not always in the markets where the capacity crunch is most critical. But uncertainty in the overall economic situation will need to be carefully watched.”

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Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease 6.6 percent in May compared to the same month in 2021. This was a significant improvement over the 15.8 percent decline in April. Available capacity in the region fell 7.4 percent compared to May 2021.

“Airlines in the region have been heavily impacted by lower trade and manufacturing activity due to Omicron-related lockdowns in China,” IATA said. “However this started to ease in May as restrictions were lifted.”

North American carriers posted a 5.7 percent decrease in cargo volumes in May compared to a year earlier. IATA said demand in the Asia-North America market remained subdued, but other key routes such as Europe-North America remained strong. Capacity was up 6.8 percent compared to May 2021.

“Several carriers in the region are set to receive delivery of freighters this year, which should help address pent-up demand on routes where it is needed if economic headwinds don’t persist,” IATA said.

European carriers saw a 14.6 percent falloff in cargo volume in May from the same month in 2021, the worst performance of all regions. This is attributable to the war in Ukraine, IATA noted, while labor shortages and lower manufacturing activity in Asia also affected volumes. Capacity increased 3.3 percent year over year.

Middle Eastern airlines experienced an 11.6 percent year-on-year decrease in cargo volume in May. IATA said significant benefits from traffic being redirected to avoid flying over Russia failed to materialize, likely due to persisting supply chain issues in Asia. Capacity was up 7.6 percent compared to May 2021.

Latin American carriers reported an increase of 13.8 percent in cargo volume in May from a year earlier, the strongest performance of all regions. Capacity in May was up 33.3 percent compared to the same month in 2021.

“Airlines in this region have shown optimism by introducing new services and capacity, and in some cases investing in additional aircraft for air cargo in the coming months,” IATA said.

African airlines saw cargo volumes decline 1.5 percent in the month year over year. This was significantly slower than the 6.3 percent growth recorded the previous month. Capacity was 3 percent above May 2021.