Global air cargo demand rises again in October

An Emirates Sky Cargo aircraft unloads emergency aid supplies in Pakistan
Photo Credit: Emirates Sky Cargo

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data for October 2023 global air cargo markets indicating the third consecutive month of stronger year-on-year demand.

Regional variations again highlight the dynamic nature of the industry, with the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East leading the way.

Rising Global Demand: A Positive Trajectory


Global Demand Surges: The demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), showcased a robust increase of 3.8% compared to October 2022.

While international operations experienced a slightly lower growth rate at 3.5%, the overall trend suggests a positive trajectory in the air cargo sector.

Capacity Boost: The available cargo tonne-kilometres (ACTKs) witnessed a substantial rise of 13.1% compared to the same period last year, with international operations seeing an 11.1% increase.

This surge is predominantly attributed to the growth in belly capacity, particularly in the international markets where passenger demand has strengthened.

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An Air Canada Cargo freighter aircraft is loaded.
Photo Credit: Air Canada

Operating Environment Factors


Several factors in the operating environment merit attention:

Economic Slowdown: Economic activities experienced a slowdown in October, as indicated by the Purchasing Managers’ Index and export orders remaining below the critical 50 mark. This serves as a clear marker for impending economic challenges.

Inflation Trends: In major advanced economies, inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), showed signs of easing, reaching between 3% and 4% for the US and the EU.

However, China’s CPI hinted at deflation for the second time this year, raising concerns of an economic slowdown.

Global Trade Stabilization: After a dip in the preceding months, global trade reversed its downward trajectory, stabilizing in September. Although below its 2022 peak, global cross-border trade is more than 5% above pre-pandemic levels.

Cargo Yields: Cargo yields, after a continuous 17-month decline, saw a 2.6% month-on-month gain in September, maintaining levels well above pre-pandemic standards.

Insights from IATA’s Director General


Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, remarked on the positive trends: “Demand for air cargo was up 3.8% in October. That marks three consecutive months of year-on-year growth, placing air cargo on course to end 2023 on a much stronger footing than it began the year.”

However, Walsh balanced optimism with caution, highlighting that demand is still 2.4% below pre-pandemic levels, and uncertainties linger over the global economy’s trajectory.

A strong peak year-end season, though, could provide resilience through potential economic shifts in 2024.

Regional Performance Breakdown


Asia-Pacific Airlines

Solid Growth: Asia-Pacific airlines witnessed a commendable 7.6% increase in air cargo volumes in October 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.

Key trade lanes, such as Africa-Asia, Middle East-Asia, and Europe-Asia, contributed to this growth, with available capacity soaring by 30.0%.

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North American Carriers

Challenges Persist: North American carriers faced challenges with a 1.8% decrease in cargo volumes year-on-year.

Despite improvements in specific trade lanes, overall performance remained subdued, with a modest 2.4% increase in capacity compared to October 2022.

European Carriers

Steady Progress: European carriers experienced a 1.0% increase in air cargo volumes in October compared to the same month in 2022.

Notable growth in international CTKs within Europe and the Middle East-Europe trade lane contributed to this positive performance, with capacity rising by 7.0%.

Middle Eastern Carriers

Exceptional Growth: Middle Eastern carriers demonstrated the strongest performance with a remarkable 10.9% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes.

Growth in the Middle East–Asia and Middle East–Europe markets fueled this surge, with a 15% increase in capacity compared to October 2022.

Latin American Carriers

Positive Momentum: Latin American carriers experienced a 4.0% increase in cargo volumes, surpassing the previous month’s gain. Capacity also saw a notable 8.3% rise compared to October 2022.

African Airlines

Recovery Continues: African airlines witnessed a 2.9% increase in air cargo volumes, showcasing improvement from September’s performance.

Key trade lanes, such as Africa-Asia, played a pivotal role, contributing to a 9.8% increase in capacity compared to October 2022.

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Recently released IATA figures show that global air cargo demand rose in October for a third consecutive month; increasing 3.8% year on year.
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