Air Cargo Demand Sees a Promising Rise in January

A DHL freighter aircraft loading air cargo
Curimedia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released data showing a robust commencement to the year in global air cargo markets.

The world air cargo sector has now come through a year characterized by generally softer demand. The positive uptick entering 2024 hopefully represents ‘green shoots’ for the sector.

The report indicates a substantial surge in total demand and measured in cargo tonne-kilometers. A promising start to the year, it shows notable expansions in capacity, particularly in international operations.

An Overview of Key Metrics

Total Demand

  • Year-on-Year Growth: Total demand escalated by 18.4% compared to January 2023 figures, with international operations witnessing a remarkable 19.8% surge.
  • Historical Context: This upsurge represents the most significant annual growth in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs) since the summer season of 2021.


  • Year-on-Year Growth: Capacity, quantified in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), surged by 14.6% compared to January 2023, with international operations exhibiting an 18.2% increase.
  • Contributing Factors: The growth in capacity predominantly stemmed from the expansion in belly capacity, with international belly capacity witnessing a substantial 25.8% rise year-on-year.
New York City, NY, USA – Feb 24, 2017: Airport workers loading cargo to a commercial airplane in JFK ariport

Insights from IATA Director General

Willie Walsh, the Director General of IATA, emphasized the significance of these findings. He stated, “Air cargo demand was up 18.4% year-on-year in January. This is a strong start to the year.”

Walsh attributed this positive trajectory to the continuous support from the booming e-commerce sector, which has consistently fueled air cargo demand. This has seen surpassing of growth rates in both trade and production since the final quarter of 2023.

However, amid the optimism, Walsh acknowledged prevailing uncertainties, particularly regarding China’s economic slowdown.

These concerns are expected to be a focal point of discussions at the upcoming IATA World Cargo Symposium in Hong Kong.

The symposium agenda is set to delve into themes of digitalization, efficiency, and sustainability, reflecting the industry’s commitment to adaptability and resilience.

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Operating Environment Dynamics

  • Cross-Border Trade: December witnessed a marginal 1.0% increase in global cross-border trade compared to the preceding month, albeit registering a slight year-on-year decline of 0.2%.
  • Manufacturing Output: January saw a noteworthy improvement in the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for manufacturing output, crossing the 50 mark for the first time in eight months, indicating expansion. Despite this, the new export orders PMI displayed a slight increase but remained below the critical 50 threshold, suggesting a gradual deceleration in global exports.

Inflation Dynamics

  • Major Economies: Inflation rates in major economies exhibited varying trends, with the US and EU witnessing a slight easing to 3.1% in January, while Japan reported a stable 2.1%. In contrast, China’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) indicated persistent deflation for the fourth consecutive month, with a negative inflation rate of -0.8%, marking its lowest since the Global Financial Crisis in 2009.
WestJet Cargo Boosts Presence With Havana Route

Regional Performance in January 2024


  • Cargo Volumes: Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region experienced a robust 24.6% increase in air cargo volumes compared to January 2023, with notable growth across major trade lanes.
  • Capacity: Available capacity for Asia-Pacific carriers surged by 25.0% year-on-year, primarily driven by the addition of belly capacity from the passenger segment.

North America

  • Cargo Performance: North American carriers reported a 9.3% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes in January 2024, showcasing improvement from the previous month.
  • Trade Lanes: Growth was observed particularly on the North America-Asia and North America-Europe trade routes.
  • Capacity: Capacity increased by 3.8% compared to January 2023.


  • Cargo Growth: European carriers witnessed a robust 16.4% increase in air cargo volumes in January 2024, outperforming December figures.
  • Key Markets: Significant growth was noted in both intra-European markets and the Europe-Asia route, along with gains from the expansion in the Middle East-Europe trade lane.
  • Capacity: Capacity surged by 12.5% year-on-year.

Middle East

  • Performance: Middle Eastern carriers exhibited the strongest performance, with a remarkable 25.9% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes.
  • Trade Lanes: Growth was predominantly driven by the Middle East–Asia and Middle East–Europe markets.
  • Capacity: Capacity surged by 17.1% compared to January 2023.

Latin America

  • Volume Increase: Latin American carriers reported a notable 13.4% increase in cargo volumes compared to January 2023.
  • Capacity: Capacity witnessed a 6.6% year-on-year increase.


  • Cargo Growth: African airlines experienced a significant 17.0% increase in air cargo volumes in January 2024.
  • Trade Lanes: Growth was propelled by the Africa-Asia trade lane.
  • Capacity: Capacity surged by 19.4% compared to January 2023.


The January 2024 data from IATA paints a promising picture for the global air cargo industry, with robust growth observed across regions.

While challenges persist, particularly concerning China’s economic trajectory, industry stakeholders remain focused.

Taken overall, global efforts in fostering innovation, efficiency, and sustainability to navigate the evolving landscape successfully are continuing.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 6 Min Read
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