August 2021 data for global air cargo markets shows that demand continues to be strong but pressure on capacity is rising. 

  • Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was up 7.7% compared with August 2019 (8.6% for international operations). Overall growth remains strong compared with the long-term average growth trend of around 4.7%.
  • The pace of growth slowed slightly compared with July, which saw demand increase 8.8% (against pre-COVID-19 levels).
  • Cargo capacity is down 12.2% compared with August 2019 (13.2% for international operations). In month-on-month terms, capacity fell 1.6%, the largest drop since January 2021. 

Economic conditions continue to support air cargo growth but are slightly weaker than in the previous months indicating that global manufacturing growth has peaked:

  • The August manufacturing output component of the Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs) was 51.9, indicating a short-term boost to demand if those orders are shipped by air. This was a decline from 54.4 in July. 
  • The August new export orders component of the PMIs was favorable for air cargo. Though expansion continued at the global level, there was contraction in emerging economies.
  • The inventory-to-sales ratio remains low ahead of the peak year-end retail season. This is positive for air cargo, although further capacity constraints put this at risk.

Air cargo demand had another strong month in August, up 7.7% compared to pre-COVID levels. Many of the economic indicators point to a strong year-end peak season. With international travel still severely depressed, there are fewer passenger planes offering belly capacity for cargo. And supply chain bottlenecks could intensify as businesses continue to ramp up production,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.


Regional Performance

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their international air cargo volumes increase 3.0% in August 2021 compared with the same month in 2019.This was a slowdown in demand compared with the previous month’s 4.4% expansion. Demand is being affected by an easing in growth momentum in key activity indicators in Asia, and by congested supply chains especially on Within Asia and Europe-Asia routes. International capacity is significantly constrained in the region, down 21.7% vs. August 2019.

North American carriers posted an 18% increase in international cargo volumes in August 2021 compared with August 2019. New export orders and demand for faster shipping times are underpinning the North American performance. The downside risk from capacity constraints is high; international cargo capacity remains restricted and many of the key air cargo hubs are reporting severe congestion, including Los Angeles and Chicago. International capacity decreased 6.6% vs. August 2019.

European carriers saw a 6% increase in international cargo volumes in August 2021 compared with the same month in 2019. This was on a par with July’s performance. Manufacturing activity, orders, and long supplier delivery times remain favorable to air cargo demand. International capacity decreased 13.6% vs. August 2019.

Middle Eastern carriers experienced an 15.4% rise in international cargo volumes in August 2021 versus August 2019, an improvement compared with the previous month (13.4%). The large Middle East–Asia trade lanes continue to post strong performance. International capacity decreased 5.1%.

Latin American carriers reported a decline of 14% in international cargo volumes in August compared with the 2019 period, which was the weakest performance of all regions. Capacity remains significantly constrained in the region, with international capacity decreasing 27.1% in August, the largest fall of any region.

African airlines saw international cargo volumes increase 33.9% in August, the largest increase of all regions. Investment flows along the Africa-Asia route continue to drive the regional outcomes with volumes on the route up 26.4% over two years ago. International capacity decreased 2.1% vs. August 2019.


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