YEAR-on year air-cargo demand grew in August for the first time in 19 months, according to the latest available data from the International Air Transport Association.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), increased by 1.5% compared with August 2022 levels (2% for international operations).

Capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres (ACTKs), was up 12.2% compared to August 2022 (11.8% for international operations).

IATA said this was largely related to belly capacity which rose 30% year-on-year as airlines ramped-up operations to meet peak-northern summer travel season demand.

Contributing factors

In August, both the manufacturing output purchasing managers index (49.4) and new export orders PMI (47.0) saw a slight improvement to the previous month. They remained, however, below the critical threshold represented by the 50 mark, indicating a continuing, if slower, annual decline in global manufacturing production and exports.

Global cross-border trade contracted for the fourth month in a row in July, decreasing 3.2% year-over-year. IATA said this reflects the cooling demand environment and general macroeconomic conditions.

Inflation saw a mixed picture in August, with an increase in US consumer prices for the second month in a row. Meanwhile in Europe and Japan, consumer and producer prices fell. In China, which is fighting deflationary pressures, consumer prices rose.

IATA director general Willie Walsh said the first year-on-year growth in air-cargo demand was welcome news.

“But it is off a low 2022 base and market signals are mixed,” he said.

“Looking ahead, while many uncertainties remain, we can take some optimism from PMI data moving towards positive territory. This is particularly significant as we head into air cargo’s traditional peak year-end season.”

Regional focus

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes increase by 4.9% in August 2023 compared with the same month in 2022.

This was a significant improvement in performance compared to July (up 2.3%).

Carriers in the region benefited from growth on two major trade lanes: Europe-Asia (up from 3.1% in July to 8.8% in August) and Middle East-Asia (up from 2.7% in July to 3.5% in August).

Additionally, the within-Asia trade lane also performed better in August, with international CTKs contracting by 4.7% compared to the 9.7% annual decline in July.

Available capacity for the region’s airlines increased by 28.5% compared with August 2022 as more belly capacity came online from the passenger side of the business.

North American carriers saw their air cargo volumes decrease by 1.2%. This was an improvement in performance compared to July (down 5.4%).

Carriers in the region benefitted from a slight improvement in growth on two major trade lanes: North America – Europe (2.9% annual contraction in August,1.2 percentage points better than in July) and Asia – North America (declined 4.2% in August compared to 4.4% decrease in July).

Capacity increased 2.7% compared to August 2022.

European carriers saw their air cargo volumes decline by 0.2% in August compared with the same month in 2022.

This was, however, an improvement in performance versus July (down 1%).

Volumes saw an increase due to the aforementioned Europe–Asia performance and a small increase in the Middle East – Europe markets by 0.4%. Capacity increased 3.6% in August 2023 compared to 2022.