Air cargo demand drops in 2020

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Demand for air cargo decreased 10.6% in 2020 compared with 2019, according to IATA.

A lack of global capacity, however, pushed load factors higher. Capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), shrank 23.3% in 2020 causing load factors to increase 7.7%. This contributed to increased yields and revenues, providing support to airlines and some long-haul passenger services in the face of collapsed passenger revenues. 

But with the stalling of the recovery in passenger markets, there is no end in sight for the capacity crunch. This may be significant as economic conditions improve. The new export orders component of the manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)¹ is in growth territory in both developed and emerging markets. And global industrial production has also recovered. 

“Air cargo is surviving the crisis in better shape than the passenger side of the business,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “For many airlines, 2020 saw air cargo become a vital source of revenues, despite weakened demand. But with much of the passenger fleet grounded, meeting demand without belly capacity continues to be an enormous challenge. And, as countries strengthen travel restrictions in the face of new coronavirus variants, it is difficult to see improvements in passenger demand or the capacity crunch. 2021 will be another tough year.”

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