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May Air Cargo 9.4% Above Pre-COVID Levels

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released May 2021 data for global air cargo markets showing that demand continued its strong growth trend.

As comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted, all comparisons to follow are to May 2019 which followed a normal demand pattern.

  • Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs*), was up 9.4% compared to May 2019. Seasonally adjusted demand rose by 0.4% month-on-month in May, the 13th consecutive month of improvement.

  • The pace of growth slowed slightly in May compared to April which saw demand increase 11.3% against pre-COVID-19 levels (April 2019). Notwithstanding, air cargo outperformed global goods trade for the fifth consecutive month.

  • North American carriers contributed 4.6 percentage points to the 9.4% growth rate in May. Airlines in all other regions except for Latin America also supported the growth.

  • Capacity remains constrained at 9.7% below pre-COVID-19 levels (May 2019) due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft. Seasonally adjusted capacity rose 0.8% month-on-month in May, the fourth consecutive month of improvement indicating that the capacity crunch is slowly unwinding.

  • Underlying economic conditions and favourable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo:

    • Global trade rose 0.5% in April.

    • The Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs) - leading indicators of air cargo demand - show that business confidence, manufacturing output and new export orders are growing at a rapid pace in most economies.

    • The cost-competitiveness of air cargo relative to that of container shipping has improved. Pre-crisis, the average price of air cargo was 12 times more expensive than sea shipping. In May 2021 it was six time more expensive.

“Propelled by strong economic growth in trade and manufacturing, demand for air cargo is 9.4% above pre-crisis levels. As economies unlock, we can expect a shift in consumption from goods to services. This could slow growth for cargo in general, but improved competitiveness compared to sea shipping should continue to make air cargo a bright spot for airlines while passenger demand struggles with continued border closures and travel restrictions,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

May 2021
(% chg vs the same month in 2019)

World share1

CTK

ACTK

CLF
(%-pt)2

CLF
(level)3

Total Market

100%

9.4%

-9.7%

10.0%

57.2%

Africa

2.0%

23.1%

-1.8%

10.1%

50.2%

Asia Pacific

32.6%

2.7%

-15.7%

11.6%

64.6%

Europe

22.3%

6.0%

-16.9%

14.1%

65.6%

Latin America

2.4%

-14.3%

-23.3%

4.4%

42.3%

Middle East

13.0%

13.9%

-7.5%

11.1%

58.9%

North America

27.8%

21.6%

2.0%

7.6%

46.9%

¹% of industry CTKs in 2020   ²change in load factor vs 2019   ³Load factor level

May Regional Performance

  • Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo increase 5.3% in May 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease compared to the previous month (5.9%) due to a slight slowdown in growth in several large trade routes such as Within Asia. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 16.9% versus May 2019. As was the case in April, the region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor at 75.2%.

  • North American carriers posted a 25.5% increase in international demand in May 2021 compared to May 2019. This was on par with April’s performance (25.4%) and the strongest of all regions. Underlying economic conditions and favorable supply chain dynamics remain supportive for air cargo carriers in North America. International capacity grew by 1.6% compared with May 2019.

  • European carriers posted an 5.7% increase in demand in May 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease in performance compared to the previous month (11.5%) due to a slight slowdown in growth on key trade routes including Europe – Asia and Within Europe. International capacity decreased by 17.3% in May 2021 versus May 2019, remaining unchanged from the previous month.

  • Middle Eastern carriers posted a 14.1% rise in international cargo volumes in May 2021 versus May 2019. This was a slight decrease compared to the previous month (15.6%). Seasonally adjusted volumes remain on a robust upward trend. International capacity in May was down 6.1% compared to the same month in 2019, a robust improvement from the 10.1% drop in April.

  • Latin American carriers reported a decline of 14% in international cargo volumes in May compared to the 2019 period. This was the worst performance of all regions, but a significant improvement compared to the previous month, which saw a 32.3% drop in demand. Seasonally adjusted demand also rose strongly in May. International capacity decreased 24.9% compared with May 2019, an improvement over the 52.3% decrease in April.

  • African airlines’ cargo demand in May increased 24.5% compared to the same month in 2019. This was a decrease in performance compared to the previous month (34.0%) due to a slowdown in trade flows between Africa and Asia. May international capacity increased by 0.5% compared to May 2019, remaining relatively unchanged from April.

Download the complete Air Cargo Market Analysis for May 2021 (pdf)



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