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Air cargo demand continues strong growth trend in May 2021, outlines IATA data

After air cargo demand reached the highest level since records began in March 2021, the strong growth trend has continued into May 2021, with an increase of 9.4 per cent.

Global air cargo demand reaches highest level since 1990 in March 2021

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has 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-kilometres (CTKs), was up by 9.4 per cent compared to May 2019. Seasonally adjusted demand rose by 0.4 per cent month-on-month in May 2021, making it the 13th consecutive month of improvement.   

The pace of growth slowed slightly in May 2021 compared to April 2021, which saw demand increase by 11.3 per cent 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 per cent growth rate in May 2021. Airlines in all other regions except for Latin America also supported the growth.  

Capacity remains constrained at 9.7 per cent below pre-COVID-19 levels (May 2019) due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft. Seasonally adjusted capacity rose by 0.8 per cent month-on-month in May 2021 – 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 per cent in April 2021
  • 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 times more expensive. 

“Propelled by strong economic growth in trade and manufacturing, demand for air cargo is 9.4 per cent 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.   

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