Global air cargo shows continued decline in March

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

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data for March 2023 global air cargo markets showing a continued decline against previous year’s demand performance. This trend began in March 2022.

Global market performance

Overall, the global air cargo market sector experienced a volatile first quarter for 2023. Performance for the month of March saw a weakening below pre-Covid levels. In addition, the general air cargo indicators were also weak or weakening.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs*), fell 7.7% compared to March 2022 (-8.1% for international operations).

This was a slight improvement over the previous February’s performance (-9.4%) and half the rate of annual decline seen in January and December (-16.8% and -15.6% respectively).

 At this point, it is unclear if this is a potentially modest start of an improvement trend or the upside of market volatility. Irrespective of this, March performance slipped back into negative territory compared to pre-COVID levels (-8.1%).

Capacity (measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers, ACTK) was up 9.9% compared to March 2022. The strong uptick in ACTKs reflects the addition of belly capacity as the passenger side of the business continues to recover.

Contributing factors

There are several factors in the current air cargo operational environment which need to be taken into consideration.


The current global economic uncertainty is a key consideration. Even with record low unemployment rates, the global economy continues to decelerate due to a combination of factors.

This includes considerations such as the tightening financial conditions, high levels of global debt, and supply chain problems including those linked to the war in Ukraine.

In line with the weakening global trade, the Purchasing Manager Indices (PMIs) for new export orders at the global level remained below the 50-critical line for a full year as of March.

China’s PMI declined to below the 50-mark in March, following a slight improvement observed in February.

The PMI for supplier delivery times indicates high inventory levels, which tends to have a negative impact on air cargo.

Global goods trade decreased by 2.6% in February; this was a faster rate of decline than the previous month of -1.0%.

IATA comments

“Air cargo had a volatile first quarter. In March, overall demand slipped back below pre-COVID-19 levels and most of the indicators for the fundamental drivers of air cargo demand are weak or weakening.”

“While the trading environment is tough, there is some good news. Airlines are getting help in managing through the volatility with yields that have remained high and fuel prices that have moderated from exceptionally high levels.”

“Looking ahead, with inflation reducing in G7 countries policy makers are expected to ease economic cooling measures and that would stimulate demand,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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