Air cargo failing to lift off as solution to supply chain crisis, research suggests

Fri 10 Jun 2022
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Air Cargo Supply Chain

Port congestion and rising shipping costs are not translating into a switch to air cargo transport, according to latest figures published today by The International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Despite a 4.2% year-on-year decline in shipping volumes, new global air cargo data released by the IATA, an aviation trade association accounting for over 80% of the world’s air traffic, reveals global air demand in April 2022 fell by 11.2% compared to April 2021, with overall global demand down 1% compared to the same period in 2019.

Asia Pacific fall

Not only is overall capacity also down 2% compared to 2021, but the key Asia-Pacific region was particularly badly hit. Here air cargo volumes decreased by 15.8% in April, while capacity fell by 19.4% - the worst performance of any region.

Reasons for the fall include the war in Ukraine, but also shrinking export orders and a challenging business environment. All told, the IATA found new export orders were falling in all markets except the US.

Also blamed was China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19. This has led to capacity challenges due to flight cancellations and effects of personnel shortages, according to Air Cargo Eye.

Supply Chain disruption

In theory, air freight should be benefiting from pandemic-driven supply chain disruptions, as companies redirect their gaze to air transport to keep products moving.

But according to, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in particular is forcing cargo airlines to divert planes around the region, meaning products are more expensive, and take longer to fly from A to B.

According to IATA, North American carriers posted a 6.6% decrease in cargo volumes across the same period, while European carriers saw a 14.4% decrease. Middle Eastern carriers experienced a 11.9% year-on-year decrease, although capacity was up 6%. African airlines saw cargo volumes decrease by 6.3%, with capacity 1.5% below April 2021 levels.

Latin American carriers, conversely, saw significant increases in both volume and capacity, reflecting optimism and investment shown by airlines in the region.

Cause for optimism

But could there soon be light at the end of the tunnel? IATA director general, Willie Walsh says: “The [current] operating environment is challenging for all businesses, including air cargo, but with China [now] easing lockdown restrictions, there is cause for some optimism and the supply/demand imbalance is keeping yields high,” as reported in Air Cargo News.

Meanwhile, according to The Loadstar, regional UK airports are seeing their solid cargo air offering booming. The specialist supply chain website reports that, from having almost no cargo in April 2020, Bournemouth Airport alone has seen 20,000 tonnes of goods passing through by the end of March 2022.

The Loadstar further claims congestion at larger hubs, such as London, is causing freight forwarders to look further afield, with regional airports becoming a more attractive option.