African air cargo demand surges amid global downturn
Air cargo demand and movement have recorded a surge in the African region, though global demand still remains weak on account of the COVID-19 aviation disruptions.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in the September data for global air freight markets showed that air cargo demand, while strengthening, remains depressed compared to 2019 levels.
According to the data, African airlines saw demand increase by 9.7 per cent year-on-year in September. This was the fifth consecutive month in which the region posted the strongest increase in international demand. Investment flows along the Africa-Asia route continue to drive the regional outcomes. International capacity decreased by 24.9 per cent.
However, global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), was eight per cent below previous-year levels in September, -9.9 per cent for international operations. That is an improvement from the 12.1 per cent year-on-year drop recorded in August. Month-on-month demand grew by 3.7 per cent in September.
Global capacity shrank by 25.2 per cent in September, -28 per cent for international operations, compared to the previous year. That is nearly three times larger than the contraction in demand, indicating a severe lack of capacity in the market.
Strong regional variations are emerging with North American and African carriers reporting year-on-year gains in demand, +1.5 per cent and +9.7 per cent respectively, while all other regions remained in negative territory compared to a year earlier.
Improving performance is aligned with improvements in key economic indicators. The new export orders component of the manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index rose above the 50-mark, indicating growth, for the first time since mid-2018. The World Trade Organisation revised their 2020 trade growth forecast from -12.9 per cent to -9.2 per cent.
IATA’s Director-General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alexandre de Juniac, noted that air cargo volumes were down in 2020, but they are a world apart from the extreme difficulties in the passenger business.
“For air cargo, 92 per cent of the business is still there, whereas about 90 per cent of international passenger traffic has disappeared. Favorable indicators for the peak year-end season will support the continued recovery in demand.”
“Already North American and African carriers are reporting demand gains in 2020. The challenge continues to be on capacity. As carriers adjust schedules to reflect falling passenger demand amid the resurgence of COVID-19, valuable belly capacity will be lost when it is needed the most,” de Juniac said.
Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall 14.6 per cent in September 2020 compared to the same month a year earlier. This was an improvement from the 16.4 per cent fall in August 2020. Demand on routes between Asia–North America and Asia–Africa were strongest. International capacity remained constrained in the region, down 32 per cent, despite airlines adding more capacity on many routes.
North American carriers returned to pre-crisis levels, posting a 1.5 per cent increase in international demand compared to the previous year—the first month of growth in 10 months. This strong performance was driven by the Asia-North America routes, reflecting e-commerce demand for products manufactured in Asia. The region’s domestic market also performed robustly. International capacity decreased by 19.7 per cent.
European carriers reported a decrease in demand of 15.7 per cent compared to the previous year. Improvements have been slight but consistent amid recovering economic activity and increasing exports, however, all major routes remained in contractionary territory. International capacity decreased 32.8 per cent.