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 ton-kilometers (CTKs), was up 9.4% compared to May 2019. Seasonally adjusted demand rose by 0.4% month-on-month in May, the 13th consecutive month of improvement.
The pace of growth slowed slightly in May compared to April which saw demand increase 11.3% 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% growth rate in May. Airlines in all other regions except for Latin America also supported the growth.
Capacity remains constrained at 9.7% below pre-COVID-19 levels (May 2019) due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft. Seasonally adjusted capacity rose 0.8% month-on-month in May, 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% in April.
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 time more expensive.
“Propelled by strong economic growth in trade and manufacturing, demand for air cargo is 9.4% 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.