Air Cargo

Global Air Cargo Volumes Recover to Pre-COVID levels inside 10 Months

The global air cargo market has virtually recovered from the losses that the COVID-19 pandemic caused according to performance data for February 2021 from industry analysts CLIVE Data services and TAC index.

Chargeable weight for the last 4 weeks of the month, stood at 1% compared to February 2019 and 2% ahead of last year’s number. Niall van de Wouw, Managing Director of CLIVE data services commented the following that passenger airlines will be, “dreaming of such a recovery in passenger demand.”

CLIVE data will continue to compare first to market data to pre-pandemic numbers of 2019, to give a meaningful perspective of the industry’s performance. This is planned to occur until at least Q3 of this year. This will be produced alongside the 2020 comparison.

Capacity levels in February 2021 were -8% and -5% of 2019 and 2020 respectively. CLIVE’s load factor calculated both the volume and weight perspectives of cargo flown and capacity available was up 5% pts on February 2019 and 9% pts on February 2020. The overall dynamic load factor was the same as last months while the monthly volumes climbed 7% despite the short month of February as capacity rose 5% over January.

Van de Wouw added: “These are tricky months to compare due to the Chinese New Year and Leap Year variances, so we have to be careful in how we read the market. To give a meaningful view, it makes sense to keep an eye out to 2019 before the pandemic took hold and, on that basis, air cargo demand is now nearly at par with pre-COVID volumes despite much less capacity in the market. If we normalise for last year’s Leap Year, we can see a 2% growth in global volumes compared to February 2020 but that does not tell the tale by any measure – the apparently modest global growth number is masking what lies underneath. Volumes from China to Europe, for example, were nearly 5 times higher in the four weeks of February 2021 than in the similar weeks of 2020. This was caused by the dramatic drop in volumes because of the of the factory closures a year ago in response to the COVID outbreak. Volumes from Europe were down by -11% for the same period.”

“Demand is increasing and there are a lot of passenger planes sitting around that could start flying cargo, but I don’t think that will happen proactively. Given the high financial risks, when it comes to adding capacity, airlines are more likely to follow the market as opposed to trying to stimulate it. But if it makes sense, they will surely fly those aircraft. Air cargo has been resilient and, bit-by-bit, has clawed back the losses we saw only a few months ago. In April 2020, volumes were down -39% but are now back to the pre-COVID level. Who would have that possible inside 10 months? It’s a recovery airline passenger departments will be dreaming of.”

According to TAC index, volume, capacity and load factors continue to reflect the high price of transporting shipments via air cargo at the moment.

Robert Frei, Business Development Director at the company commented: “Volatility remains high (also intra month) and, given the much higher pricing levels than a year ago, is having a major impact. Looking at PVG-EUR, for example, if you are 10% off with your procurement today (which would be RMB 3.20) compared to 2020 levels, it would have meant a deviation of 18%. This presents a very risky environment for freight forwarders and potentially an immediate loss of their gross margins of 8-10%. So up-to-date pricing information on a weekly basis is an absolute necessity to manage these volatile periods. We also assume the spread of spot rates is likely to remain high.”

The latest data from TAC Index shows that despite the ‘mundane’ monthly pricing average there is still quite a lot of volatility in the weekly rate levels.

Data shows that the Baltic Exchange Index was +2% over January which also took Chinese New Year into account which is normally considered peak season but looking more closely at the impact on the PVG – EUR compared to previous years, TAX index observed the following:

• 2019 – overall period +8%
• 2020 – overall period -4%
• 2021 – overall period -13%

February 2021 saw the highest drop in yield compared to that of the previous years during the period around Chinese New Year. In absolute terms this compares as shown below:

• 2019 – average RMB 20 /kg
• 2020 – average RMB 17.5 /kg = – 11% to previous year
• 2021 – average RMB 31 /kg = +79% to previous year or +63% higher than 2019

TAC Index added that interesting observations have made when comparing other international routes such as HKG – EUR which stayed relatively flat in terms of pricing levels whereas the PVG counterpart increased by +7%. Meanwhile, HKG – USA went up 2%, whilst PVG – EUR went down by -1%.