2020 worst year for air cargo demand

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released data for global air freight that show a 10.6 per cent decrease in business during 2020 – the largest dip in year-on-year demand since its records began in 1990, and well above the six per cent fall in general demand for goods globally.

Available air freight capacity, meanwhile, fell by 23.3 per cent (and 24.1 per cent for international operations), more than double the drop in demand. With large numbers of passenger aircraft – which usually provide significant trade capacity – grounded during lockdowns, shippers have had to use dedicated freight services more often.

IATA said a recovery of new export orders in developing and emerging markets, and in global industrial production, had improved the situation by the end of last year. However, with ongoing low activity in the passenger markets, it added that ‘there is no end in sight’ for the pressure on space.

‘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,’ said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. ‘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 year.’

The IATA’s report pointed to significant variation in the regional performance of air cargo during the year. Carriers in the US and Africa reported an overall increase in demand (of +1.1 per cent and +1.0 per cent, respectively), while all other regions fell compared with 2019. The Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America regions all posted double-digit falls, of 15.2 per cent, 16 per cent and 21.3 per cent respectively. International demand fell in all regions apart from Africa, where there was an increase of 1.9 per cent.

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