May Air Cargo Buoyed by Easing of Omicron Restrictions in China

Geneva – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released May 2022 data for global air cargo markets showing that the easing of Omicron restrictions in China helped to alleviate supply chain constraints and contributed to a performance improvement in May.

Note: We returned to year-on-year traffic comparisons, instead of comparisons with the 2019 period, unless otherwise noted.

  • Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs*), was 8.3% below May 2021 levels (-8.1% for international operations). This was an improvement on the year-on-year decline of 9.1% seen in April.
  • Capacity was 2.7% above May 2021 (+5.7% for international operations). This more than offset the 0.7% year-on-year drop in April. Capacity expanded in all regions with Asia-Pacific experiencing the largest growth.
  • Air cargo performance is being impacted by several factors.
  • Trade activity ramped up slightly in May as lockdowns in China due to Omicron were eased. Emerging regions also contributed to growth with stronger volumes.
  • New export orders, a leading indicator of cargo demand and world trade, decreased in all markets, except China.
  • The war in Ukraine continues to impair cargo capacity used to serve Europe as several airlines based in Russia and Ukraine were key cargo players.

“May offered positive news for air cargo, most notably because of the easing of some Omicron restrictions in China. On a seasonally adjusted basis, we saw growth (0.3%) after two months of decline. The return of Asian production as COVID-19 measures eased, particularly in China, will support demand for air cargo. And the strong rebound in passenger traffic has increased belly capacity, although not always in the markets where the capacity crunch is most critical. But uncertainty in the overall economic situation will need to be carefully watched,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

May Regional Performance

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes decrease by 6.6% in May 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was a significant improvement over the 15.8% decline in April. Airlines in the region have been heavily impacted by lower trade and manufacturing activity due to Omicron-related lockdowns in China however this started to ease in May as restrictions were lifted. Available capacity in the region fell 7.4% compared to May 2021.

North American carriers posted a 5.7% decrease in cargo volumes in May 2022 compared to May 2021. Demand in the Asia-North America market remained subdued, however, other key routes such as Europe – North America remain strong. Capacity was up 6.8% compared to May 2021. Several carriers in the region are set to receive delivery of freighters this year, which should help address pent-up demand on routes where it is needed if economic headwinds don’t persist.

European carriers saw a 14.6% decrease in cargo volumes in May 2022 compared to the same month in 2021. This was the worst performance of all regions. This is attributable to the war in Ukraine. Labor shortages and lower manufacturing activity in Asia due to Omicron also affected volumes. Capacity increased 3.3% in May 2022 compared to May 2021.

Middle Eastern carriers experienced a 11.6% year-on-year decrease in cargo volumes in May. Significant benefits from traffic being redirected to avoid flying over Russia failed to materialize. This is likely due to persisting supply chain issues in Asia. Capacity was up 7.6% compared to May 2021.

Latin American carriers reported an increase of 13.8% in cargo volumes in May 2022 compared to May 2021. This was the strongest performance of all regions. Airlines in this region have shown optimism by introducing new services and capacity, and in some cases investing in additional aircraft for air cargo in the coming months. Capacity in May was up 33.3% compared to the same month in 2021.

African airlines saw cargo volumes decrease by 1.5% in May 2022 compared to May 2021. This was significantly slower than the growth recorded the previous month (6.3%). Capacity was 3.0% above May 2021 levels.

Air Cargo Market Detail-MAY 2022World Share (% year on year)CTKACTKCLF(%-PT)​2CLF(LEVEL)​3
Total Market100%-8.3%2.7%-6.1%50.5%
Africa1.9%-1.5%3.0%-2.3%49.5%
Asia Pacific32.6%-6.6%-7.4%0.5%62.7%
Europe22.8%-14.6%3.3%-11.5%54.8%
Latin America2.2%13.8%33.3%-6.6%38.7%
Middle East13.4%-11.6%7.6%-10.5%48.7%
North America27.2%-5.7%6.8%-5.4%41.1%

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