The International Transport Association (IATA) released data for global air freight showing that demand for cargo decreased by 10.6% in 2020, compared to 2019. This was the largest drop in year-on-year demand since IATA started to monitor cargo performance in 1990, outpacing the 6% fall in global trade in goods. 

African airlines saw demand grow by 1.0% in 2020 compared to 2019 (1.9% for international operations) and a fall in capacity of 17.3% (-15.8% for international operations). The continent’s carriers posted the strongest international growth of all regions in 2020 as well as in December, just as international demand in the month grew by 6.3% year-on-year. African airlines now have the same share of the global international cargo as carriers from Latin America (2.4%). International capacity decreased by 21.6% in December, a steepening of the 18.6% fall in November. 

Meanwhile, global demand in 2020, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs*), was 10.6% below 2019 levels (-11.8% for international operations).  Global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), shrank by 23.3% in 2020 ( 24.1% for international operations) compared to 2019. This was more than double the contraction in demand. 

Due to the lack of available capacity, the clearinghouse for over 199 global airlines stated that cargo load factors rose 7.7% in 2020. This contributed to increased yields and revenues, providing support to airlines and some long-haul passenger services in the face of collapsed passenger revenues. 

It noted that improvements towards year-end were demonstrated in December when global demand was 0.5% below previous-year levels (-2.3% for international operations). Global capacity was 17.7% below previous-year levels (?20.6% for international operations).

According to IATA, that is much deeper than the contraction in demand, indicating the continuing and severe capacity crunch. With the stalling of the recovery in passenger markets, there is no end in sight for the capacity crunch.

IATA’s Director-General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac said, “ cargo is surviving the crisis in better shape than the passenger side of the business. For many airlines, 2020 saw air cargo become a vital source of revenues, despite weakened demand.”

“ But with much of the passenger 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,” he said.

Strong variations were evident in the regional performance of cargo in 2020. North American and African carriers reported an annual gain in demand in 2020 (+1.1% and +1.0%, respectively), while all other regions remained in negative territory compared to 2019. International demand fell in all regions with the exception of Africa which posted a 1.9% increase in 2020 compared to the previous year.

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