Geneva: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released January data for global air cargo markets showing that demand returned to pre-Covid levels for the first time since the onset of crisis.
January demand also showed strong month-to-month growth over December 2020 levels. Global demand measured in cargo tonne kilometres was up 1.1 per cent compared to January 2019 and plus 3 per cent compared to December 2020. All regions saw month-on-month improvement in air cargo demand and North America and Africa were the strongest performers, said IATA.
The recovery in global capacity measured in available cargo tonne kilometres was reversed owing to new capacity cuts on the passenger side. Capacity shrank 19.5 per cent compared to January 2019 and fell 5 per cent compared to December 2020, the first monthly decline since April 2020.
"Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy. 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," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director General and CEO.
"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. In normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air," he said.
de Juniac said this high value commerce is vital to helping restore Covid damaged economies -- not to mention the critical role air cargo is playing in distributing life-saving vaccines that must continue for foreseeable future.
However, Asia Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall 3.2 per cent in January 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was an improvement from the 4 per cent fall in December 2020.
International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 27 per cent versus January 2019, which was a deterioration compared to the 26.2 per cent year-over-year decline recorded in December. The region's airlines reported the highest international load factor at 74 per cent.
IATA said conditions in the manufacturing sector remain robust despite new Covid-19 outbreaks that dragged down passenger demand. The global manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) was at 53.5 in January. Results above 50 indicate manufacturing growth versus the prior month.
The new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI -- a leading indicator of air cargo demand -- continued to point to further cargo tonne kilometres improvement. However, the performance of the metric was less robust compared with Q4 2020 as Covid-19 resurgence negatively impacted export business in emerging markets.
Should this continue or expand to other markers, it could weigh on future air cargo growth.
Besides, the level of inventories remains relatively low compared to sales volumes. Historically, this has meant that businesses had to quickly refill their stocks, for which they also used air cargo services.