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Global Air cargo demand rebounds in 2023 despite economic uncertainty

IATA, ICAO partner to strengthen air transport safety standard for dangerous good

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data for global air freight markets showing that air cargo demand rebounded in 2023 with a particularly strong fourth quarter performance despite economic uncertainties. Full-year demand reached a level just slightly below 2022 and 2019.

Both the manufacturing output and new export order Purchasing Managers Indexes (PMIs) – two leading indicators of global air cargo demand—continued to hover below the 50-mark in December, usual markers for contraction.

Global full-year demand in 2023, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was down 1.9 percent compared to 2022 (-2.2 percent)for international operations). Compared to 2019, it was down 3.6% (-3.8 for international operations).

Capacity in 2023, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), was 11.3 percent above 2022 (+9.6 percent for international operations). Compared to 2019 (pre-COVID) levels, capacity was up 2.5 percent (0.0 percent for international operations).

December 2023 saw an exceptionally strong performance: global demand was 10.8 percent above 2022 levels (+11.5 percent for international operations). This was the strongest annual growth performance over the past two years. Global capacity was 13.6 percent above 2022 levels (+14.1 percent for international operations).

Global cross-border trade recorded growth for the third consecutive month in October, reversing its previous downward trend.

December inflation in both the United States and the EU as measured by the corresponding Consumer Price Indices (CPI) stayed below 3.5 percent year-on-year. China’s CPI, however, indicated deflation for the third consecutive month, raising concerns of an economic slowdown.

“Despite political and economic challenges, 2023 saw air cargo markets regain ground lost in 2022 after the extraordinary COVID peak in 2021. Although full year demand was shy of pre-COVID levels by 3.6 percent, the significant strengthening in the last quarter is a sign that markets are stabilizing towards more normal demand patterns.

“That puts the industry on very solid ground for success in 2024. But with continued, and in some cases intensifying, instability in geopolitics and economic forces, little should be taken for granted in the months ahead,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General

African airlines reported a decrease in demand of 1.8 percent (-2.0 percent for international demand) in 2023 compared to 2022 and an increase in capacity of 5.6 percent (+5.0 percent for international operations). In December airlines in the region posted the weakest performance of all with a 1.2 percent decrease in demand (-1.4 percent for international operations) compared to 2021. Capacity grew 7.4 percent (+6.8 percent for international operations) during the same period.

European carriers posted a 3.9 percent decrease in demand in 2023 compared to 2022 (-4.1 percent for international operations). During the same period, airlines posted a capacity increase of 4.5 percent for both global and international operations. In December, airlines in the region posted an 8.6 percent increase in demand (+8.7 percent for international operations) compared to 2022. Capacity increased 7.4 percent (+7.5 percent for international operations) during the same period. Airlines in the region continued to be most affected by the war in Ukraine.

Middle Eastern carriers reported an increase in demand of 1.6 percent for global and international demand in 2023 compared to 2022 and an increase in capacity of 13.5 percent (+13.6 percent for international operations). In December airlines in the region posted an 18.3 percent increase in demand for both global and international operations compared to 2022. Capacity increased 17.7 percent (+17.8 percent for international operations) during the same period.

Red Sea Disruption

In November and December air cargo experienced a modest rise in demand and yields due to disruptions in the Red Sea. The following was observed when comparing data for the week commencing 4 November 2023 and the week ending 9 December 2023:

A one percent increase in global air cargo demand coupled with a five percent rise in yields;

In the Asia-Pacific region, demand grew by two percent and yields by six percent;

A one percent one percent increase in demand between China and the rest of the world and an 11 percent increase in yields;

Europe’s demand remained steady, but yields increased by three percent; in the Middle East, demand was constant with a four percent rise in yields.
Data for the last half of December showed a normalization of demand and yields.

“The recent disruption to maritime routes in the Red Sea has seen some shippers pivot to air cargo. The increased demand saw a spike in air cargo yields on related trade lanes. A similar spike is expected in January as disruptions intensified.

“While not all cargo is suitable for air transport, it is a vital option for some of the most urgent shipments in extraordinary circumstances. And that is critical to the continuity of the global economy, said Walsh.