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Global air cargo demand surpasses pre-pandemic levels, according to latest IATA data

Middle East carriers posted a 17.1% rise in international cargo volumes in June 2021 against the same month in 2019

Global air cargo demand is up from pre-pandemic levels, with the market showing its strongest first-half performance since 2017, new data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows.

Demand in June 2021 was up 9.9 percent from June 2019, but regional performance varied widely.

The Middle East contributed 2.1 percentage points to the growth, while North American carriers contributed 5.9 percentage points, European airlines 1.6 percentage points, African airlines 0.5 percentage points and Asia-Pacific carriers 0.3 percentage points. Latin American carriers did not support the growth and shaved 0.5 percentage points off the total.

“Air cargo is doing brisk business as the global economy continues its recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. With first-half demand 8 percent above pre-crisis levels, air cargo is a revenue lifeline for many airlines as they struggle with border closures that continue to devastate the international passenger business. Importantly, the strong first-half performance looks set to continue,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.  

Middle East carriers posted a 17.1 percent rise in international cargo volumes in June 2021 versus June 2019, boosted by strong performances on the Middle East to Asia and Middle East to North America trade routes.

Overall capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), remained constrained at 10.8 percent below pre-Covid-19 levels in June 2019 due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft. Belly capacity was down 38.9 percent on June 2019 levels, partially offset by a 29.7 percent increase in dedicated freighter capacity.

Globally, economic conditions and favourable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo, the IATA statement said, pointing to the fact that the US inventory to sales ratio is at a record low. This means that businesses have to quickly refill their stocks, and typically use air cargo to do so.

The purchasing managers indices (PMI), a leading indicator of air cargo demand, also shows that business confidence, manufacturing output and new export orders are growing at a rapid pace in most economies.

Finally, the cost-competitiveness and reliability of air cargo relative to that of container shipping has improved. The average price of air cargo relative to shipping has reduced considerably. And scheduling reliability of ocean carriers has dropped - in May it was around 40 percent compared to 70-80 percent prior to the crisis.

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