Demand for air cargo in 2022 took a significant step back from 2021 levels but closed the year near pre-pandemic levels of 2019, according to statistics released today by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Global full-year demand in 2022, as measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was down 8.0% compared to 2021 but was down just 1.6% compared to 2019. Meanwhile, air cargo capacity in 2022 moved in the other direction, finishing the year 3.0% above 2021 as measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), but declining by 8.2% compared to 2019 (pre-COVID) levels.
Trends also showed that air freight may continue to slow in 2023, since global new export orders, a leading indicator of cargo demand, have been stalled at the same level since October. And new export orders for major economies are shrinking everywhere except for growth hot-spots in Germany, the U.S., and Japan.
One reason for that tepid forecast may be continued efforts by many nations to squeeze inflation rates by slowing down their own economies, IATA said. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for G7 countries showed inflation of 6.8% for December, a 0.6 percentage point drop compared to the previous month, when that figure was at 7.4% for November. Likewise, inflation as measured by producer (input) prices reduced to 12.7% in October, its lowest level so far in 2022.
“In the face of significant political and economic uncertainties, air cargo performance declined compared to the extraordinary levels of 2021. That brought air cargo demand to 1.6% below 2019 (pre-pandemic) levels,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, said in a release.
“The continuing measures by key governments to fight inflation by cooling economies are expected to result in a further decline in cargo volumes in 2023 to -5.6% compared to 2019. It will, however, take time for these measures to bite into cargo rates,” Walsh said. “So, the good news for air cargo is that average yields and total revenue for 2023 should remain well above what they were pre-pandemic. That should provide some respite in what is likely to be a challenging trading environment in the year ahead.”
Despite that quiet cargo environment, airlines also saw passenger demand rebound in 2022 from its pandemic morass. Total traffic in 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose 64.4% compared to 2021, bringing the 2022 passenger traffic volume to 68.5% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels.
“The industry left 2022 in far stronger shape than it entered, as most governments lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions during the year and people took advantage of the restoration of their freedom to travel. This momentum is expected to continue in the New Year, despite some governments’ over-reactions to China’s re-opening,” Walsh said.
According to IATA, global travel bans during the pandemic had a bigger impact on depressing airlines’ business results than on preventing the spread of the disease. “Let us hope that 2022 becomes known as the year in which governments locked away forever the regulatory shackles that kept their citizens earthbound for so long,” Walsh said. “It is vital that governments learn the lesson that travel restrictions and border closures have little positive impact in terms of slowing the spread of infectious diseases in our globally inter-connected world. However, they have an enormous negative impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as on the global economy that depends on the unfettered movement of people and goods.”