Shipping & Logistics

Global air cargo demand rises to pre-Covid levels in January

KQ-cargo

A Kenya Airways cargo aircraft. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Global air cargo demand returned to pre-Covid levels in January, showing recovery for the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic a year ago. This comes as a relief to airlines that have been struggling for the last one year.
  • The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said January demand also showed strong month-to-month growth over December 2020 levels, buoyed by Africa and Asia robust growth in trade.

Global air cargo demand returned to pre-Covid levels in January, showing recovery for the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic a year ago. This comes as a relief to airlines that have been struggling for the last one year.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said January demand also showed strong month-to-month growth over December 2020 levels, buoyed by Africa and Asia robust growth in trade.

The upturn in air cargo comes at a time when local airlines such as Kenya Airways and Astral Aviation have increased their freight capacity in order to capitalise on freight demand following a dip in passenger numbers.

Passenger numbers remain low as the demand for flying is still subdued amid new travel restrictions and lockdowns by different countries.

“Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers, was up 1.1 percent compared to January 2019 and three percent up 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 Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general and chief executive.

“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,” he said, noting 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”.

African airlines’ cargo demand in January soared 22.4 percent compared to the same month in 2019, eclipsing the 6.3 percent year-over-year increase for December 2020.

IATA said a robust expansion on the Asia-Africa trade lanes contributed to the strong growth in the review period.

European carriers’ international cargo demand slipped 0.6 percent in January compared to the same month in 2019. This was an improvement from the 5.6 percent fall in December 2020 over the year-ago period. International capacity decreased 19.5 percent, a deterioration from the 18.4 percent year-to-year decline recorded for December.

On the other hand, IATA announced that passenger traffic fell in January 2021, compared to pre-Covid levels (January 2019) and compared to the immediate month prior (December 2020).

Total demand in January 2021 — measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs — was down 72.0percent compared to January 2019. That was worse than the 69.7percent year-over-year decline recorded in December 2020.

Total domestic demand was down 47.4 percent versus pre-crisis (January 2019) levels. In December it was down 42.9 percent on the previous year.

International passenger demand in January was 85.6 percent below January 2019, a further drop compared to the 85.3 percent year-to-year decline recorded in December.

“2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot. Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new Covid variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions. The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel,” said the agency.