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Air Freight Sees November Lift, but Capacity Still Lacking

Air freight volume improved in November from the prior month, but remained depressed compared to 2019, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported Thursday.

IATA said capacity remains constrained from the loss of available belly cargo space in passenger aircraft, as many remain parked due to lack of travel during the global pandemic.

Global demand was 6.6 percent below previous-year levels in November, after a 6.2 percent year-on-year drop in October. IATA noted that the year-on-year decline was skewed because November 2019 had a boost in demand from the waning U.S.-China trade war.

Global capacity declined 20 percent in November compared to the previous year–nearly three times larger than the contraction in demand. IATA said the capacity crunch is caused by a 53 percent decrease in in belly capacity, only been partially offset by a 20 percent increase in freighter capacity.

“Air cargo demand is still down 6.6 percent compared to the previous year, however we are seeing continuing month-on-month improvements,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO. “Severe capacity constraints persist as large parts of the passenger fleet remain grounded. This will put pressure on the industry as it gears up to deliver vital COVID-19 vaccines.”

Strong regional variations continue with North American carriers reporting year-on-year gains in demand, while all other regions remained in negative territory compared to a year earlier.

North American carriers posted a 1 percent increase in international demand in November compared to the previous year–just the third month of growth over a 12-month period.

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“This stronger performance compared to the rest of the industry was driven by a less stringent capacity crunch compared to other regions, with international capacity only down 12.7 percent in November,” IATA said in its report. “Strong traffic on the Asia-North America routes also contributed to the performance, reflecting rising e-commerce demand for products manufactured in Asia.”

Asia-Pacific airlines reported a decline in year-on-year international demand of 9.5 percent in November compared to the same month a year earlier. This was a 2.2 percent improvement from the 11.7 percent fall in October.

IATA said while international traffic within the region remains weak, exports on the Asia-North America and Asia-Europe routes are strong, driven by demand for e-commerce and personal protective equipment (PPE). International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 25.3 percent from a 28.5 percent decrease in October.

European carriers reported a 13.7 percent decrease in international demand in November year over year, representing a 2.7 percent decline compared to October.

“Air cargo in the region has been significantly affected by the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus and the impact of lockdowns on consumer demand and business activity,” IATA said. “Lack of capacity remains a challenge, as international capacity decreased 24.9 percent in November.

Middle Eastern carriers saw a 2.2 percent decline in year-on-year international cargo volume in November. The lack of international connectivity is hampering air cargo recovery in the region, however seasonally adjusted demand remains on an upward trend, IATA noted. International capacity in the region decreased 18.6 percent.

Latin American carriers reported a decline of 19.4 percent in international cargo volume for the month from a year earlier. This was a drop from the 12.2 percent falloff in October.

Air cargo in the region has also been significantly affected by the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus and the impact of lockdowns on consumer demand and business activity. International capacity decreased 24.8 percent in November.

African airlines saw international demand fall 1.7 percent year-on-year in November, after three months of positive year-on-year growth. This is primarily driven by a soft performance on the Asia-Africa route, which was down 4.5 percent year-on-year. International capacity decreased 19.4 percent.