Global Air Cargo Rides Continued Wave of Strong Demand

Lufthansa ground staff loading air cargo.
Photo Credit: Lufthansa

The global air cargo market continued its impressive start to 2024, with February marking the third consecutive month of double-digit year-on-year demand growth.

We take a look at the latest encouraging data issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Demand Outpaces Trade Growth

Total demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), surged by 11.9% compared to February 2023.

This significant increase outpaced the modest 0.9% expansion in global cross-border trade, highlighting the air cargo industry’s resilience amid economic uncertainties.

IATA Director General Willie Walsh expressed optimism, stating that “this strong start for 2024 could see demand surpass the exceptionally high levels of early 2022.”

Belly Capacity Drives Growth

The growth in air cargo demand was accompanied by a rise in capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs).

However, the source of this capacity increase is noteworthy. Passenger traffic rebound has led to a significant increase in belly capacity (cargo space in passenger aircraft).

This saw a 29.5% year-on-year increase, which far outstripped the growth in freighter capacity (dedicated cargo aircraft) at 3.2%.

WestJet Cargo Boosts Presence With Havana Route

Regional Performance

The February air cargo performance varied by region:


Airlines in this region saw a solid 11.9% growth, but this was a significant decrease compared to January’s exceptional 24.3% year-on-year increase.

This slowdown is likely due to the Lunar New Year holiday and subsequent easing of activity. Capacity growth here was strong at 23.1%.

North America

North American carriers experienced the weakest demand growth among all regions at 4.2% year-on-year.

However, specific trade lanes within the region performed better, with North America-Europe growing by 5.2% and Asia-North America by 3.9%. Capacity increase in North America was modest at 1.9%.


European carriers enjoyed a robust 14.6% year-on-year demand growth, with intra-European air cargo leading the way at a staggering 24.5% increase – the strongest performance in nearly three years.

This region also saw significant growth on routes to the Middle East (39.3%) and North America (5.2%). European capacity grew by a healthy 13.2%.

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

Middle East

Middle Eastern carriers witnessed the second-highest demand growth at 20.9% year-on-year. The Middle East-Europe route was the star performer here.

It mirrors the strong European demand, with a 39.3% increase. Capacity in the Middle East also grew substantially at 16.2%.

Latin America

Latin American carriers saw a respectable 13.7% year-on-year demand growth, accompanied by an 8.9% increase in capacity.


African airlines stole the show with the highest demand growth globally at 22.0% year-on-year. Intra-African trade lanes were particularly strong, experiencing a remarkable 42.3% increase. African capacity grew by a significant 28.2%.

Positive Outlook Despite Uncertainties

The air cargo industry’s strong performance in the first few months of 2024 is a positive sign, particularly considering the ongoing economic and political uncertainties.

The resilience of demand alongside the strategic use of belly capacity from recovering passenger traffic paints a promising picture for the rest of the year.

Whether demand can surpass the highs of early 2022 remains to be seen, but the current trends suggest a robust air cargo market in the near future.

Click the banner to subscribe to our weekly newsleter.

Click the photo to join our WhatsApp channel so then you can stay up to date with everything going on in the aviation industry!

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read
You Might Also Enjoy