The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) latest data for global air freight markets reveals that demand for air cargo fell by 10.6 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 – the largest drop in year-on-year demand since IATA’s cargo monitoring began in 1990.

Global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), meanwhile, shrank by 23.3 per cent in 2020 (24.1 per cent for international operations) compared to 2019, IATA said.

Due to the lack of available capacity, cargo load factors rose 7.7 per cent in 2020. This contributed to increased yields and revenues, providing support to airlines and some long-haul passenger services in the face of collapsed passenger revenues.

Improvements towards year-end were demonstrated in December when global demand was 0.5 per cent below previous-year levels (-2.3 per cent for international operations). Global capacity was 17.7 per cent below previous-year levels (-20.6 per cent for international operations).

Commenting on the latest data, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO said, “Air cargo is surviving the crisis in better shape than the passenger side of the business. For many airlines, 2020 saw air cargo become a vital source of revenues, despite weakened demand. But with much of the passenger fleet grounded, meeting demand without belly capacity continues to be an enormous challenge.   And, as countries strengthen travel restrictions in the face of new coronavirus variants, it is difficult to see improvements in passenger demand or the capacity crunch. 2021 will be another tough yearRegional performance.”

Strong variations were evident in the regional performance of air cargo in 2020, IATA said. North American and African carriers reported an annual gain in demand in 2020 (+1.1% and +1.0%, respectively), while all other regions remained in negative territory compared to 2019. International demand fell in all regions, with the exception of Africa which posted a 1.9 per cent increase in 2020 compared to the previous year.

2020 regional performance elaborated

Strong variations were evident in the regional performance of air cargo in 2020. North American and African carriers reported an annual gain in demand in 2020 (+1.1% and +1.0%, respectively), while all other regions remained in negative territory compared to 2019. International demand fell in all regions with the exception of Africa which posted a 1.9% increase in 2020 compared to the previous year.

  • Asia-Pacific airlines reported a decline in demand of 15.2% in 2020 compared to 2019 (-13.2% for international operations) and a fall in capacity of 27.4% (-26.2% for international operations). In December airlines in the region posted a 3.9% decrease in international demand compared to the previous year. After a pause in recovery in Q3, demand is improving, driven by a rebound in manufacturing activity and export orders from China and South Korea. International capacity remained constrained in December, down 25.1%.
  • North American carriers posted a 1.1% increase in demand in 2020 compared to 2019 (-5.2% for international operations) and a fall in capacity of 15.9% (-19.7% for international operations). In December carriers in the region posted an increase of 3.1% in international demand. This was the strongest monthly performance since late 2018. Strong traffic on the Asia-North America routes, which was up 2.1% in 2020, contributed to the performance, driven by strong demand from North American consumers for goods manufactured in Asia. Capacity remained constrained, down 14.1% in December.
  • European carriers reported a 16.0% drop in demand in 2020 compared to 2019 (-16.2% for international operations) and a fall in capacity of 27.1% (-27.1% for international operations). In December airlines posted a decrease in international demand of 5.6% compared to the previous year. After a pause in recovery in November, seasonally adjusted demand grew 7% month-on-month in December, the largest rise of all regions. However, new lockdowns and adverse economic conditions in the region risk the recovery. Lack of capacity remains a challenge, as international capacity decreased 19.4% in December.
  • Middle Eastern carriers reported a decline in demand of 9.5% in 2020 compared to 2019 (-9.5% for international operations) and a fall in capacity of 20.9% (-20.6% for international operations). After a slight slowdown in recovery in November, carriers in the region performed well in December, posting a 2.3% increase in international demand. International capacity decreased by 18.2% in December, unchanged from November.
  • Latin American carriers reported a decline in demand of 21.3% in 2020 compared to 2019 (-20.3% for international operations) and a fall in capacity of 35% (-33.6% for international operations). In December international cargo volumes fell by 19.0% compared to the previous year. Air cargo recovery in the region has been affected by adverse economic conditions in markets such as Mexico, Argentina and Peru. Capacity remains highly constraint in the region. International capacity decreased in December by 36.7%, a steepening of the 30.4% fall in November.
  • African airlines saw demand grow by 1.0% in 2020 compared to 2019 (1.9% for international operations) and a fall in capacity of 17.3% (-15.8% for international operations). African airlines posted the strongest international growth of all regions in 2020 as well as in December. International demand in the month grew by 6.3% year-on-year. African airlines now have the same share of the global international cargo market as carriers from Latin America (2.4%). International capacity decreased by 21.6% in December, a steepening of the 18.6% fall in November.

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