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Air freight volumes, rates up despite diminished capacity

  • March 2021 global volume was only marginally lower than in the same month in 2018 and 2019 considering the enormous reduction in cargo capacity
  • Load factor improved in each of the three first months of 2021, indicating more efficient use of cargo space than in the past
  • For the full first quarter of 2021, worldwide chargeable weight was 7.7% above the first quarter of 2020
  • First quarter outbound volume for the whole Asia Pacific increased by 19% year-over-year

Air cargo volume showed a worldwide growth of 21% in March 2021 against the same month last year, a considerable feat considering the heavily reduced capacity on airlines, according to market data released by WorldACD.

“Worldwide, March 2021 was only marginally lower than the same month in 2018 and 2019. This is the more remarkable when taking into account the enormous reduction in cargo capacity,” said the air cargo market data supplier.

Year-on-year load factor improved in each of the three first months of 2021, ranging between 15 and 20 percentage points, indicating that “airlines are clearly able to use their cargo space much more efficiently than in the past.”

The report said that among the 30 largest markets, six of them—the origins USA Atlantic South, USA Midwest, Taiwan, Thailand, Belgium and Kenya—recorded March 2021 as their best month since January 2018 in volume terms.

The same was true for the destination markets China East, South Korea, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands and USA Midwest.

Other top origin markets—notably China Northeast and Central, France, UK, India, and Australia—have not yet recovered. For them, March remained more than 20% below their best month over the past three years.

This is also the case for the destinations Australia, Canada East, China Northeast, Spain, South Africa and USA Northeast.

For the full first quarter of 2021, chargeable weight worldwide was 7.7% above the first quarter of 2020, but still 2% below the first quarter of 2019.

The categories vulnerable & high-tech products, flowers and live animals, however, did better than in the first quarter of 2019, with vulnerable & high-tech goods’ chargeable weight improving by an impressive 22%.

Unsurprisingly, China led the first quarter air cargo growth by a large margin, said WorldACD. In the same period, its outbound air cargo increased by 39% and its inbound by an even higher 41%.

First quarter volume growth for the whole Asia Pacific area increased by 19% year-over-year (outbound), followed by the Americas (+10% in the north, +6% in central & south). Europe and Africa remained the same, while the origin Middle East and South Asia or MESA dropped by 10% year-over-year.

Since the start of the pandemic, rate developments have shown the most drastic change, WorldACD noted. The first quarter rate increased 64% compared to the same period last year even despite much smaller volume gains.

“Not only do the rate increases highlight the capacity shortage and the short term financial influence of the pandemic, they may cause further changes in cargo capacity made available by passenger airlines,” it said.

“After all, with rates on full freighter flights up by 32% YoY, whilst those on passenger aircraft almost doubled, airlines could be tempted to take a fresh look at the capacity they make available for air cargo.”

It pointed out that freighter capacity in March increased 7 percentage points less than cargo capacity on passenger aircraft, while the worldwide rate increased every week from mid-March to mid-April.

Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash

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