Data released today by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows global air freight markets plummeted 27.7 per cent in April, year-on-year, the sharpest fall ever recorded. International markets saw the decline reaching -29.5 per cent, as measured in cargo tonne kilometres (CTKs).
But even as volumes spiralled, there was still insufficient capacity to meet demand as a result of the loss of belly cargo operations on passenger aircraft.
Global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne kilometres (ACTKs), shrank by 42 per cent in April compared to the previous year (-40.9 per cent for international markets).
Belly capacity for international air cargo shrank by 75 per cent in April compared to the previous year. This was partially offset by a 15 per cent increase in capacity through expanded use of freighter aircraft.
The cargo load factor (CLF) rose 11.5 percentage points in April, the largest increase since tracking began. IATA notes that the magnitude of the rise suggests that there is significant demand for air cargo which cannot be met owing to the cessation of most passenger flights.
“There is a severe capacity crunch in air cargo,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO. “The result is damaging global supply chains with longer shipping times and higher costs. Airlines are deploying as much capacity as possible, including special charter operations and the temporary use of passenger cabins for cargo.
“Governments need to continue to ensure that vital supply lines remain open and efficient. While many have responded with speed and clarity to facilitate the movement of cargo, government red-tape—particularly in Africa and Latin America—is preventing the industry from flexibly deploying aircraft to meet the demands of the pandemic and the global economy,” he adds.
Delays in getting operational permits issued, blockages at the border and inadequate ground infrastructure to/from and within airport environments continue to hamper air cargo in countries in Africa and Latin America. “Air cargo needs to move efficiently throughout the entire supply chain to be effective,” IATA says while urging governments to:
- Accelerate approvals for cargo operations
- Expedite customs clearance for urgently needed medical supplies
- Ensure there is adequate staff on the ground and land-based infrastructure to move cargo efficiently
Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall by 28.1 per cent in April 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier. However, the large Asia-North America market recorded less of a decline (7.3 per cent) due to the rise in movement of personal protective equipment (PPE).
North American carriers reported a fall in international demand of 20.1 per cent year-on-year in April, the smallest contraction of all regions. While still a significant drop, it remains less than the decline seen at the height of the Global Financial Crisis in April 2009 (-32.3 per cent).
European carriers reported a 33.8 per cent annual drop in international cargo volumes in April, much sharper than the outcome for March (-18.5 per cent). However, the large Europe-Asia market recorded less of a decline due to the rise in movement of PPE.
Middle Eastern carriers reported a decline of 36.2 per cent year-on-year in April, significantly worse than 14.1 per cent fall in March. Despite a number of carriers in the region maintaining some cargo capacity, traffic on all key routes was low.
Latin American carriers posted the sharpest fall — a 38.9 per cent year-on-year decline in international demand. International capacity decreased 55.5 per cent. The COVID-19 crisis is particularly challenging for airlines based in Latin America owing to strict containment measures and a lack of support from Governments to keep cargo moving.
African airlines were less affected by disruptions from COVID-19 than other regions in April. They saw year-on-year international CTKs fall by 20.9 per cent. The small Africa-Asia market was the most resilient route in April, down only 1.0 per cent.