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Cargo demand hits pre-COVID levels, passenger figures take a hit

written by Hannah Dowling | March 3, 2021

(Image from IATA)

Global demand for air cargo has surpassed pre-COVID levels, though passenger traffic remains well below, according to the IATA.

The International Air Transport Association has revealed that air cargo demand in January 2021 was up 1.1 per cent on pre-COVID January readings, and up 3 per cent compared to the previous month.

The IATA noted that the air freight sector of the industry has outperformed that of passenger services throughout the pandemic, as demand for passenger air travel hit record-breaking lows, and online e-commerce rates rose.

However, January remained a tough month for airlines, as international passenger air traffic plunged 86 per cent year-on-year.

Domestic traffic fared better around the globe, however still remained 47 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels.

The IATA cited the emergence of stronger variants of the coronavirus that caused governments to lock down borders and introduce tougher travel restrictions as reasons for the underwhelming results.

“That is what drove the weakness and the low points in January,” said IATA chief economist Brian Pearce. “Airlines are facing a really tough start to the year.”


IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac stated that strong cargo results remain a welcome light to the struggling industry, that has seen demand decimated by border closures and travel restrictions, however encouraged governments to work together to provide clarity for the aviation industry.

“Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy,” he said.

“But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft. That should be a sign to governments that they need to share their plans for restart so that the industry has clarity in terms of how soon more capacity can be brought online.”

De Juniac added, “In normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air. This high value commerce is vital to helping restore COVID damaged economies — not to mention the critical role air cargo is playing in distributing lifesaving vaccines that must continue for the foreseeable future.”


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