African airlines’ cargo demand in February increased by 44.2 percent compared with the corresponding period in 2019, marking a strongest growth of all the regions, according to International Air Travel Association (IATA).
The news comes as a boost to airlines that have been struggling for the last one year after passenger numbers declines following imposition of Covid-19 restrictions.
According to IATA, a strong expansion on the Asia-Africa trade route contributed to the strong growth with February international capacity growing by 9.8 per cent compared to February 2019.
Globally, February demand also showed strong month-on-month growth over January 2021 levels with volumes retuning to 2018 levels.
The cargo sector has been showing positive growth since January with global air cargo demand returning to pre-Covid levels, signalling recovery for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic a year ago.
The growth was also helped by the movement of vaccines as more African countries receive their doses.
Locally, both Kenya Airways and Astral Aviation have increased their freight capacity to capitalise on cargo demand following a dip in passenger numbers, having been contracted by United Nations to transport the vaccines.
Passenger numbers remain low as the demand for flying has plummeted with travellers cutting down on their travels amid new travel restrictions and lock-downs by different countries.
“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,” IATA said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director-General and chief executive.
He said that in normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air and that this high value commerce is vital to helping restore Covid-19 damaged economies.
"The recovery in global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres (ACTKs), stalled owing to new capacity cuts on the passenger side as governments tightened travel restrictions due to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases. Capacity shrank 14.9 per cent compared to February 2019," said the agency.
European carriers’ international cargo demand slipped 0.6 per cent in January compared to same month in 2019. This was an improvement from the 5.6 per cent fall in December 2020 over the year-long period. International capacity decreased 19.5 per cent, a deterioration from the 18.4 per cent year-to-year decline recorded for December.
On the other hand, IATA announced that passenger traffic fell in January 2021, both compared to pre-Covid levels (January 2019) and compared to the immediate month prior (December 2020).