Air Cargo

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March 2021: air cargo results, more than ever a truly mixed bunch…WorldACD

Air cargo’s final March figures show a year-on-year (YoY) worldwide growth of 21%.  YoY change in the period March 1-15, 2021, stood at -0.2%, but the YoY growth in the second half of the month was +44%, a clear reminder that the first lockdown started to bite air cargo by mid-March 2020.  As the cautious recovery of early 2021 (+1.1% YoY for the first 2 months) was halted in the first half of March (-0.2% YoY).

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. YoY load factor improvements in each of the three first months of 2021, range between 15 and 20 %-points: airlines are clearly able to use their cargo space much more efficiently than in the past.


For the full first quarter of 2021 (Q1), chargeable weight worldwide was 7.7% above Q1-2020, but still 2% below Q1-2019. The categories Vulnerable & High-Tech, Flowers and Live Animals, however, did better than in Q1-2019, the first-mentioned by an impressive 22%. Compared with Q1-2019, the ten largest forwarders gained considerable market share in Africa (+2.4%-points) and Central & South America (+3.3%-points), but lost share in the Northern hemisphere, ranging from a loss of 0.4%-points in the Middle East & South Asia (MESA) to a loss of 2.7%-points in Europe.


Until the financial crisis of more than ten years ago, a country’s air cargo growth was often double the growth of the country’s economy: this 2:1 ratio moved downwards since. Yet, it may be back to the old level in China. According to The Economist, China’s economy grew by 18.3% YoY in Q1. In the same period its outbound air cargo increased by 39% and its inbound by an even higher 41%. To no one’s surprise, China leads the Q1 air cargo growth tables by a large margin. The whole Asia Pacific area increased by 19% YoY (outbound), followed by the Americas (+10% YoY in the north, +6% YoY in central & south). Europe and Africa remained the same, whilst the origin MESA dropped by 10% YoY.

Some of the largest markets including USA Atlantic South, USA Midwest, Taiwan, Thailand, Belgium and Kenya, March 2021 was simply the best month since January 2018. The same was true for the destination markets China-East, South Korea, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands and USA-Midwest. Other top-origins, notably China North East and Central, France, UK, India, and Australia, have not yet recovered. Their month of 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.

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