CONTINUED market uncertainties and (extended) public holidays contributed to a -4% drop in global air cargo demand in May 2021 versus the pre-COVID level in 2019, according to the latest industry volume, load factor and rates analysis by CLIVE Data Services and TAC Index.

To offer a meaningful perspective of the air cargo industry’s performance, CLIVE Data Services is continuing to focus on comparing the current state of the market to pre-COVID 2019 volume, cargo capacity and load factor data until at least Q3 of this year. This is being produced alongside the 2020 comparison.

After more positive indicators for the air cargo market in the first four months of the year, May 2021 data showed a less favourable trend, with the fall in demand joined by a second consecutive month-over-month drop in dynamic loadfactor and air freight rates, which peaked in early May, falling away towards the end of the month.

Niall van de Wouw, managing director of CLIVE Data Services said, “The global air cargo industry will now have to wait until the publication of June 2021 market data to determine if May’s public holiday disruptions explain the shift in demand or whether the positivity of April’s +1% growth versus the same month of 2019 created a ‘false dawn’ of a sustainable growth recovery for the rest of the year.

“There were several (extended) public holidays in May which were not present in May 2019 (China, Russia and Eid al-Fitr at the end of the Ramadan) which will have impacted the monthly growth rate in a negative manner. By how much is hard to tell – so May 2021 is more complex to qualify than to quantity.

“There are signals in May’s data that may be a cause for concern – particularly the -9% decline in air cargo volumes ex Europe versus May 2019 – but it’s certainly far too soon to tell if we are seeing a structural change in the recovery of the last few quarters,” he said.

CLIVE’s ‘dynamic loadfactor’ for May of 69% – based on analysis of both the volume and weight perspectives of cargo flown and capacity available – was 7% points higher than in 2019, although this also presented falls of -2% points and -4% points versus April and March 2021.

Available capacity in May 2021 was down -21% compared to the level of May 2019. This shows the gap in airline capacity is widening again compared to pre-pandemic market conditions following the -18% figure in April and -14% for March.  

May 2021 data versus the same month of 2020, when Covid restrictions caused severe disruption to the global aviation market, show +41% growth in chargeable weight, a +42% rise in available capacity, and +1% point increase in dynamic loadfactor.


TAC Index says higher rates in May are in line with still elevated load factors because of the capacity reduction in the market but it has also seen a downturn in prices on key trade lanes in recent weeks.

Gareth Sinclair of TAC Index said, “Air freight capacity is still scarce on many key trade lanes, so prices remain strong as economic activity picks up whilst passenger air capacity remains constrained due to restrictions on international travel.

“The BAI (Baltic Air Freight Indices) increased by 3% in May over April, but this is marked slowdown on the 17% growth seen in April-over-March.

“Pricing strength continues to be seen ex China and Hong Kong to the US and Europe and from Europe to the US with all three trade lanes seeing price increases in May over April, although prices peaked in early May and have fallen away in recent weeks.

“Even so, the airfreight market continues to be strong, particularly CN/HK to US, and is likely to continue for some time as demand in several markets continues to outstrip supply as e-commerce traffic increases and economic activity strengthens in many markets,” he said.

US to Europe prices saw a decline in May over April levels, although they did start to rise in the last two weeks of the month after an almost continuous decline since late March, TAC Index said.

Comparing the May 2021 average price levels to May 2019 shows the relative strength of the four trade lanes with EU-US leading the way at +173% followed by CN/HK-US at 151%, and CN/HK-EU and US-EU growing at more modest levels of 84% and 64% respectively.