Supply chain disruptions stall cargo growth

Data for global air cargo markets reveals slower growth in November 2021. Supply chain disruptions and capacity constraints affected demand despite economic conditions remaining favorable for the sector.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs*), was up 3.7% compared with November 2019 (4.2% for international operations). This was significantly lower than the 8.2% growth seen in October 2021 (9.2% for international operations) and in previous months. Capacity was 7.6% below November 2019 and remains constrained with bottlenecks at key hubs, including New York’s JFK, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam Schiphol.

Generally, economic conditions continue to support air cargo growth with several factors of note:​​​​

  • Labor shortages, partly due to employees being in quarantine, insufficient storage space at some airports, and processing backlogs exacerbated by the year-end rush created supply chain disruptions.
  • Retail sales in the United States and China remain strong. In the United States, retail sales were 23.5% above November 2019 levels. And in China online sales for Singles’ Day were 60.8% above their 2019 levels.
  • Global goods trade rose 4.6% in October (latest month of data), compared with pre-crisis levels, the best rate of growth since June. Global industrial production was up 2.9% over the same period.
  • The inventory-to-sales ratio remains low. This is positive for air cargo as manufacturers turn to air cargo to rapidly meet demand.
  • The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in many advanced economies has created strong demand for PPE shipments, which are usually carried by air.
  • The November global Supplier Delivery Time Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) was at 36.4. While values below 50 are normally favorable for air cargo, in current conditions it points to delivery times lengthening because of supply bottlenecks. 

“All economic indicators pointed toward continued strong demand, but the pressures of labor shortages and constraints across the logistics system unexpectedly resulted in lost growth opportunities. Manufacturers, for example, were unable to get vital goods to where they were needed, including PPE. Governments must act quickly to relieve pressure on global supply chains before it permanently dents the shape of the economic recovery from COVID-19,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

To relieve supply chain disruptions in the air cargo industry, IATA is calling on governments to:

  • Ensure that air crew operations are not hindered by COVID-19 restrictions designed for air travelers.
  • Implement the commitments governments made at the ICAO High Level Conference on COVID-19 to restore international connectivity, including for passenger travel. This will ramp-up vital cargo capacity with belly space.
  • Provide innovative policy incentives to address labor shortages where they exist.
  • Support the World Health Organization / International Labour Organization Action Group being formed to assure freedom of movement for international transport workers.


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