Air cargo demand falls back below pre-Covid levels in March

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Air cargo demand slipped back below pre-Covid levels in March after a volatile first quarter, according to the latest market data from IATA.

Figures from the airline association show that air cargo demand in cargo tonne kms (CTK) terms declined 7.7% year on year in March, which is an improvement on the percentage declines registered for most of last year.

However, IATA said that demand had slipped back into negative territory compared with pre-Covid levels after having shown an improvement in February.

IATA figures show that CTKs in March fell 8.1% compared with 2019.

“At this point, it is unclear if this is a potentially modest start of an improvement trend or the upside of market volatility,” IATA said.

The airline association said that purchasing managers’ indices for new export orders and for China had both fallen below the 50-mark in March indicating declining confidence.

There were also indications of high inventory levels, which does not bode well for air cargo.

Meanwhile, cargo load factors in March slipped 8.8 percentage points from a year ago to 46.2%.

Source: IATA

IATA director general Willie Walsh said: “Air cargo had a volatile first quarter. In March, overall demand slipped back below pre-Covid-19 levels and most of the indicators for the fundamental drivers of air cargo demand are weak or weakening.

“While the trading environment is tough, there is some good news. Airlines are getting help in managing through the volatility with yields that have remained high and fuel prices that have moderated from exceptionally high levels.

“Looking ahead, with inflation reducing in G7 countries policymakers are expected to ease economic cooling measures and that would stimulate demand.”

On a regional basis, Asia Pacific airlines registered a 7.3% year-on-year decline in cargo demand in March 2023 compared to the same month in 2022, a slight decrease in performance compared with February.

“The drop in demand suggests that air cargo traffic in the region has not yet stabilised following China’s reopening in January,” IATA said.

North American carriers “posted the weakest performance of all regions” with a 9.4% decrease as the transatlantic route between North America and Europe saw traffic “declining at an accelerated pace throughout March”.

Airlines based in Europe recorded the “most substantial improvement in demand” with volumes declining by 7.8% during the month, compared with a 15.9% fall in February.

Middle East-based carriers registered experienced a 5.5% year-on-year decrease as demand on Middle East-Europe routes has been trending upward in recent months.

The best-performing carriers were those from the Latin American region, which registered a 5.3% fall in demand.

Finally, African carriers registered a 6.2% decrease in demand in March, which was an improvement on February.

Air cargo demand slides again but beats pre-pandemic levels

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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]