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March 2021 air cargo results – a truly mixed bunch

March 2021 air cargo results – a truly mixed bunch
March 2021 air cargo results - a truly mixed bunch
Written by Harry Johnson

March 2021 was the most two-faced month in air cargo living memory

  • The cautious recovery of early 2021 was halted in the first half of March
  • For USA Atlantic South, USA Midwest, Taiwan, Thailand, Belgium and Kenya, March 2021 was the best month since 2018
  • Freighter capacity in March increased 7%-points less than cargo capacity on passenger aircraft

Air cargo’s final March figures show a year-on-year (YoY) worldwide growth of 21%. To make any sense of this percentage, the detailed results for March 2020, the most two-faced month in air cargo living memory, need to be revisited.

YoY change in the period March 1-15, 2021, stood at -0.2%, but the YoY growth in the second half of the month was +44%, a clear reminder that the first lockdown started to bite air cargo by mid-March 2020.

As the cautious recovery of early 2021 (+1.1% YoY for the first 2 months) was halted in the first half of March (-0.2% YoY), the question arises whether the second half reversed the trend again. 

Industry experts looked at volume developments for the 30 largest markets first. For six of them (the origins USA Atlantic South, USA Midwest, Taiwan, Thailand, Belgium and Kenya), March 2021 was simply the best month since January 2018.

The same was true for the destination markets China-East, South Korea, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands and USA-Midwest. Other top-origins, notably China North East and Central, France, UK, India, and Australia, have not yet recovered. Their month of March remained more than 20% below their best month over the past three years. This is also the case for the destinations Australia, Canada East, China Northeast, Spain, South Africa and USA Northeast.

Worldwide, March 2021 was only marginally lower than the same month in 2018 and 2019. This is the more remarkable when taking into account the enormous reduction in cargo capacity.