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Air cargo demand up 9% in February compared to pre-COVID levels

All regions except for Latin America saw an improvement in air cargo demand compared to pre-COVID levels and North America and Africa were the strongest performers

  • Air cargo demand continues to outperform pre-COVID levels
  • Volumes have now returned to 2018 levels seen prior to the US-China trade war
  • Global demand, measured in cargo ton-kilometers (CTKs*), was up 9% compared to February 2019

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released February 2021 data for global air cargo markets showing that air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-COVID levels with demand up 9% over February 2019. February demand also showed strong month-on-month growth over January 2021 levels. Volumes have now returned to 2018 levels seen prior to the US-China trade war.

Because 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 February 2019 which followed a normal demand pattern.

Global demand, measured in cargo ton-kilometers (CTKs*), was up 9% compared to February 2019 and +1.5% compared to January 2021. All regions except for Latin America saw an improvement in air cargo demand compared to pre-COVID levels and North America and Africa were the strongest performers.

The recovery in global capacity, measured in available cargo ton-kilometers (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% compared to February 2019.

The operating conditions remain supportive for air cargo:

Conditions in the manufacturing sector are robust despite the recent spike in COVID-19 outbreaks. The global manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was at 53.9 in February. Results above 50 indicate manufacturing growth versus the prior month.

The new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI – a leading indicator of air cargo demand– picked up compared to January.