Global air cargo: Moderate growth in September

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

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released data for September 2023 global air cargo markets, showing continuing demand recovery.

The report reveals a 1.9% surge in global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), compared to the same period in 2022.

Notably, international operations soared even higher at an impressive 6%. This signals a robust resurgence in the air cargo sector.


While demand took center stage, capacity wasn’t far behind. Available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs) experienced a noteworthy 12.1% increase compared to September 2022.

International operations witnessed a substantial rise of 31.5%, driven by the expansion of belly capacity as airlines strategically met the peak-northern summer travel season demand.


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Operating Environment Dynamics

Delving deeper into the operating environment, it’s crucial to note the manufacturing output Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) and new export orders PMI.

Although both showed a slight improvement in September, they lingered below the critical 50-point threshold. This indicates a continued, albeit slightly slower, annual decline in global manufacturing production and exports.

August marked the fifth consecutive month of global cross-border trade contraction, witnessing a 3.8% year-over-year decrease. This reflects the cooling macroeconomic environment on a global scale.

Inflation Insights

The report also offers insights into global inflation. The annual growth in US consumer prices stabilized at 3.7%, mirroring August’s rate.

Europe and Japan experienced a slowdown in consumer price inflation, while China’s deflation-fighting measures led to a marginal annual rise in consumer prices.

Jet Fuel Prices Take Off

September saw the average price of jet fuel reaching USD 131.0 per barrel, marking a significant 43.1% increase from May 2023.

Airlines, keen on recouping added costs, implemented surcharges, contributing to the first increase in air cargo yields since November 2022.

Insights from IATA’s Director General

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, emphasized the resilience of air cargo, citing a 1.9% growth in September despite challenges.

With key export orders and manufacturing PMIs on the cusp of positive territory, a cautiously optimistic outlook for a robust year-end peak season emerges.

Regional Performance Highlights

Asia-Pacific Airlines Soar

In September 2023, Asia-Pacific airlines witnessed a commendable 7.7% increase in air cargo volumes compared to the same month in 2022.

Growth on major trade lanes, including Europe-Asia, Middle East-Asia, and Africa-Asia, fueled this positive performance.

An American Airlines Cargo aircraft is loaded with supplies bound for Haiti
Photo Credit: American Airlines

North American Carriers Face Headwinds

Conversely, North American carriers experienced a 2.2% decrease in cargo volumes in September.

While contractions in the North America-Asia trade lane narrowed, overall performance declined. Capacity saw a modest 0.2% increase.

European Carriers Navigate Challenges

European carriers faced a 1.5% decline in air cargo volumes, driven by contractions within Europe.

However, gains from the Middle East-Europe trade lane partially offset the decline, with a 4.7% capacity increase.

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

Middle Eastern Carriers Standout

In a standout performance, Middle Eastern carriers showcased a 2.5% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes in September.

Growth in the Middle East–Asia and Middle East–Europe markets fueled this success, with a remarkable 16.1% increase in capacity.

Latin American Carriers’ Mixed Bag

Latin American carriers experienced a 2.3% increase in cargo volumes, a significant drop from the previous month. Despite this, capacity saw a substantial 14.4% increase.

African Airlines Weather the Storm

African airlines, though facing a slight decline of 0.1% in cargo volumes, displayed resilience. Strong demand on the Africa-Asia trade lane and a 2.7% increase in capacity hint at positive shifts.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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