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January Air Cargo Demand Recovers to Pre-Covid Levels

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released January global air cargo data Tuesday showing that demand returned to pre-Covid levels–January 2019–for the first time since the onset of the crisis.

January demand also showed strong month-to-month growth over December. Global demand was up 1.1 percent in the month compared to January 2019 and increased 3 percent from December.

The recovery in global capacity was reversed, owing to new capacity cuts on the passenger side, IATA noted. Capacity contracted 19.5 percent compared to January 2019 and fell 5 percent from December, the first monthly decline since April.

Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said. “But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft. That should be a sign to governments that they need to share their plans for restart so that the industry has clarity in terms of how soon more capacity can be brought online.”

De Juniac said in normal times, one-third of world trade by value moves by air. This high-value commerce is vital to helping restore Covid-damaged economies, he said, “not to mention the critical role air cargo is playing in distributing lifesaving vaccines that must continue for the foreseeable future.”

All regions saw month-on-month improvements in air cargo demand, and North America and Africa were the strongest performers.

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Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall 3.2 percent in January compared to the same month in 2019. This was an improvement from the 4 percent decline in December. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 27 percent versus January 2019, which was a deterioration compared to the 26.2 percent year-over-year decline recorded in December.

North American carriers posted an 8.5 percent increase in international demand in January year over year, nearly doubling the 4.4 percent gain in December compared to December 2019.

“Economic activity in the U.S. continues to recover and its January manufacturing PMIs reached a record-high, pointing to a supportive business environment for air cargo,” IATA said.

International capacity fell 8.5 percent compared to January 2019. In December, capacity was down 12.8 percent versus the same month in 2019.

European carriers’ international cargo demand dipped 0.6 percent in January from a year earlier. This was an improvement from the 5.6 percent fall in December over the year-ago period. International capacity decreased 19.5 percent, a deterioration from the 18.4 percent year-to-year decline posted for December.

Middle Eastern carriers saw a 6 percent rise in international cargo volume in January year over year, which was an acceleration over the 2.4 percent gain recorded the previous moth compared to December 2019. Of the region’s key international routes–Middle East-Asia and Middle East-North America–have provided the most significant support, IATA said.

January capacity was down 17.3 percent compared to the same month in 2019. This was a slight reduction from the 18.2 percent decline recorded in December compared to the year-ago period.

Latin American carriers reported a 16.1 percent decline in international cargo volume in January compared to the 2019 period, which was an improvement from the 19 percent falloff in December versus a year earlier. International capacity decreased 37 percent compared January 2019.

African airlines’ cargo demand soared 22.4 percent compared to the same month in 2019, eclipsing the 6.3 percent year-over-year increase for December, thanks to robust expansion on the Asia-Africa trade lanes. January international capacity fell 9.1 percent from a year earlier.