Transportation & Logistics Analysis

2020: Air freight's crazy year

February 24 2021

The air freight industry registered a 10.6% drop in demand in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. But because capacity was reduced even more drastically than demand, turnover and unit revenues increased.

No transport mode was spared by the disruption caused by Covid- 19 but the air sector is certainly the one which suffered the most severe crisis. In spring, hundreds of aircraft were grounded because of the restrictions on travel imposed by states in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Since then, the sector has only managed a timid recovery.

This period has revealed and, doubtless, accelerated underlying transformations to the point of raising questions about the fundamentals of the air transport industry. After long months of virtual meetings, will business clients be ready for the recovery? Will tourists change their travel habits? For the airlines, which are currently being drip fed, there is uncertainty about their short-term survival but also about the relevance of their medium and long-term operating models.

A record fall in traffic

In this general slump, air freight sector has done better than the rest of the industry. Although passenger transport demand dropped 65.9% in 2020 by comparison with 2019, the reduction in air cargo demand was kept down to 10.6%, according to data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). This performance was nevertheless the worst since cargo data began to be collected in 1990.

In tonne-kilometres, capacity contracted by 23.3% in 2020 compared to 2019 and by 24.1% in the international segment. The shortage of capacity has allowed airlines to increase transport prices.

According to our Upply data base, growth was sustained in December by the Asia-Europe, Europe/East Coast North America and Europe/Middle East corridors. The increase in cargo turnover in the month was spectacular - 75%, according to IATA's CargoIS data base.

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Graduated from the Lille school of Journalism, Anne has worked for 25 years for trade & logistics magazines and websites, before joining Upply.