THE INTERNATIONAL Air Transport Association has reported the highest annual growth in air cargo demand since mid-2021.

Global air cargo demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres, increased by 18.4% in January 2024 compared with the same month last year.

Capacity was up 14.6% compared with January 2023.

IATA attributed this increase to growth in international belly capacity, which rose 25.8% year-on-year on the strength of passenger markets.

IATA director general Willie Walsh said the latest figures indicated a strong start to the year.

“In particular, the booming e-commerce sector is continuing to help air cargo demand to trend above growth in both trade and production since the last quarter of 2023,” Mr Walsh said.

“The counterweight to this good news is uncertainty over how China’s economic slowdown will unfold.

“This will be on the minds of air cargo executives meeting in Hong Kong next week for the IATA World Cargo Symposium with an agenda focused on digitalisation, efficiency and sustainability,”

IATA noted air cargo growth outpaced trade and production; global cross-border trade increased by 1% in December compared with the previous month.

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their air cargo volumes increase by 24.6% in January 2024 compared with the same month in 2023.

The region’s performance was 18.5% higher than that of the previous month. Carriers benefited from ongoing growth in international cargo tonne-kilometres on the Africa-Asia, Middle East-Asia and Europe-Asia trade lanes.

Available capacity for Asia-Pacific airlines increased by 25% compared with January 2023 as more belly capacity came online from the passenger side of the business.

North American carriers had the weakest performance of all regions in January with a 9.3% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes, though this was an improvement in performance compared to December. Capacity increased by 3.8% compared with January 2023.

European carriers saw their air cargo volumes increase by 16.4% in January compared with the same month in 2023. Capacity increased 12.5% in January 2024 compared to the same month in 2023.

Middle Eastern carriers had the strongest performance in January 2024, with a 25.9% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes. Capacity increased 17.1% compared to January 2023.

Latin American carriers experienced a 13.4% increase in cargo volumes compared to January 2023, and capacity was up 6.6% compared with the same month in 2023.

And African airlines saw air cargo volumes increase by 17% in January 2024, while capacity was 19.4% above January 2023 levels.